Could you be heir to a fortune?


We all secretly dream that one day we might get a windfall – a decent enough sum to pay off our debts, buy a new house or perhaps splash out on the holiday of a lifetime. But the odds of a big payout – from the lottery (1 in 13,983,816) or premium bonds (1 in 30,777,005,514 per £1 bond) for example, are pretty slim.

Tracing your family tree is one way you can find your way to a small fortune and it’s an enjoyable experience even if there’s no pot of gold at the end of the line.

The Bona Vacantia list

There are now almost 12,000 estates are on the Government’s ‘Bona Vacantia’ list which records property and funds left by those who die intestate and without known kin. The phrase ‘Bona Vacantia’ is latin for ‘ownerless property’. The list is updated daily and anyone can access it here. There’s a small possibility that one of your relatives could be on this list and you could therefore be entitled to a share in their wealth.

How do I know if I can claim?

To know if you have a claim against someone’s estate on the Bona Vacantia list, start by searching for any family members you have lost touch with. You may find it easier to search the list if you have already researched your family tree. Websites such as Websites such as, and make it easier to do this.

Who can claim?

Not every relative is entitled to a share in a deceased person’s estate. The law sets out an order in which people are entitled to inherit, as follows:

  1. husband, wife or civil partner
  2. children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and so on
  3. mother or father
  4. brothers or sisters who share both the same mother and father, or their children (nieces and nephews)
  5. half brothers or sisters or their children (nieces and nephews of the half blood or their children). ‘Half ’ means they share only one parent with the deceased
  6. grandparents
  7. uncles and aunts or their children (first cousins or their descendants)
  8. half uncles and aunts or their children (first cousins of the half blood or their children). ‘Half’ means they only share one grandparent with the deceased, not both.

You will only be entitled to inherit if there is nobody above you in the list. See this page for more details.

Beware of fraudulent companies

One thing to be cautious of is the growth of cold calls from scam companies who will tell you that they have found a relative of yours on the list. The caller will typically say that they believe you are related to someone who has died intestate – and then offer to act for you in recovering the inheritance they say you are entitled to. They will then do the work for you, charging huge commissions and making exorbitant fake expenses claims. There have been a number of high profile cases like this recently. To take one example, Edinburgh company Beneficiaries Ltd were convicted in 2013 of defrauding relatives of 93-year-old Charlotte Cook, who died intestate. The company ought to have paid out £213,096 – but most of the money was taken up by their fees.

Not all genealogist and probate research companies are out to scam their clients but it can be difficult to know which are genuine. Neil Fraser, a partner at leading probate research firm Fraser & Fraser has recently set up the self-regulating Association of Probate Researchers to try and tackle the problem – although he believes that reform is needed in the industry. The BBC One Daytime show ‘Heir Hunters’ follows research companies such as Fraser & Fraser as they track down legal beneficiaries. Fees charged by legitimate companies are in usually in the region of 25% – and costs/expenses should be agreed beforehand.

How do people end up on the Bona Vacantia list?

As noted, the people on the Bona Vacantia list did not make a Will and have lost touch with any known relatives entitled to inherit.

New estates are added to the list daily – a stark reminder of how many people still die without making a Will, despite this being a simple and low cost process. You might think that your estate would never end up on the Bona Vacantia list, but there are almost 12,000 people named on the list who would likely have said the same. Senior case manager Ryan Gregory at probate genealogists Finders says it is common for families to lose touch and only see each other at occasions such as weddings or funerals.

What if no heir can be found?

If you die intestate and no heir can be found, your money goes straight to the Treasury. The Treasury banked a staggering £14 million in unclaimed inheritances for 2013/14 alone. However, relatives do have 12 years to come forwards and make a claim – and if they do so, they will be paid interest on the money. If a relative comes forward between 12 and 30 years, the Government has the discretion to accept the claim but no interest will be paid.

Have you made a Will?

Some people put off making a Will until they are in their forties or fifties, believing that nothing will happen to them until later life. But accidents or illness can affect anyone at any age, and without a Will, you cannot be sure that your loved ones will be provided for.

Some people instead to rely on the laws of intestacy – but many are surprised to find that if you die, your partner will not necessarily inherit all of your estate!

Everyone aged 18 or over should have a Will setting out what should happen to their possessions if something happens to them. Keep in mind that you may not own much property but if you should die in an accident, your estate may be able to claim a substantial sum. You may also hold life insurance policies that pay out in the event of your death.

Making a Will can also ensure that your property is not taken by the Local Authority, should your partner need care at any point after your death. You can also guarantee that your share of the property will not pass sideways out of the family – a common problem where a partner remarries.

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We have prepared a free, helpful information pack on making a Will and other important issues for you to consider. Fill in your details below to receive your pack. You can also call us for your pack on 0800 788 0500 or email

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