Sunday 26 November 2023

Bona Vacantia ~ Get a will drawn up !

A legal topic known as BONA VACANTIA has resulted in much comment this week - How royal estates use bona vacantia to collect money from dead people | King Charles III | The Guardian

Let's imagine an elderly man Joe. He is 85, lives in a small house, he has a small "nest egg" and survives on low income. His wife died a couple of years ago but they had no children. There are no known relatives and Joe has not made a will but has often told a few friends that he wants what he owns to pass to a couple of charities supported by his late wife.

When Joe dies, what will happen to his property? His total estate is essentially the value of his small house which could easily be worth (say) about £200,000 at present values and also his small nest -egg (say £1500 in a building society account).
This excellent "infographic" provided by Co-op Legal Services describes what might happen - Here's what happens to an estate when someone dies without making a will.  The inforgraphic has a RED column and it would be likely to apply to our fictitious Joe. 

The result is that Joe's property would end up as Bona Vacantia and then pass either to the Crown (which is represented by HM Treasury) or, for property in certain parts of the country, to the Duchy of Lancaster or the Duchy of Cornwall.

The Duchy of Lancaster had, at the end of March 2023, £641.2m of net assets under its control - (Duchy lands and property). King Charles III is Duke of Lancaster. The Duchy of Cornwall is a similar arrangement with The Prince of Wales as Duke of Cornwall. The Duchy explains how it deals with Bona vacantia.

The moral of the story is clear enough. Make a will and then keep it up-to-date. By doing this, Joe could ensure that his property went to the charities and not to the Crown.

ALWAYS get your will drawn up by a professional such as a solicitor who practises in this work. Most "high street" firms of solicitors do and they will be aware of the important legal requirements applicable to wills.

Additional Notes:

Bona Vacantia: Guide to Ownerless Property & Assets (

"Companies" can also be the subject of bona vacantia - e.g. Potier v Solicitor for the Affairs of Her Majesty's Treasury Crown Nominee for Bona Vacantia [2021] EWHC 1524 (Ch) (14 June 2021) (

Bona Vacantia - GOV.UK (

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