Are you entitled to money from the estate of a distant relative?
By Maplebrook Wills
17th Aug '18
Legacy Planning, Wills
What are you entitled to?
Finding out that you’ve inherited money from a distant relative sounds too good to be true. In fact, it sounds like a scam.
But every year, hundreds of people in the UK without leaving a will and their relatives can’t be traced. A story by the Bristol Post revealed that there were 125 with links to the city of Bristol alone.
If you can prove you are indeed a distant relative, you could be in line to inherit their estate. What’s more, it only takes a couple of minutes to find out.
Unclaimed estates are administered by the Bona Vacantia Division (BVD) of the Government Legal Department. The division updates the list regularly – you can download it from the UK Government website as a spreadsheet.
So how does it work, and how can you make a claim?
If someone dies without leaving a will, the order of priority of people who can make a claim is as follows (reproduced from the UK Government website):
- Husband, wife or civil partner
- Children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and so on
- Mother or father
- Brothers or sisters who share both the same mother and father, or their children (nieces and nephews)
- 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
- Uncles and aunts or their children (first cousins or their descendants)
- 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’re only entitled to a share of the estate if there is nobody above you in the list.
What to do
Having found someone on the unclaimed estates list to whom you think you’re a distant relative, your first step is to send BVD your family tree.
You’ll need to show how you’re related to the person who’s died. Your family tree must include dates of birth, marriage and death for everyone on the tree.
This is clearly a lot of work, and you may wish to engage the services of a genealogist to do it for you. However, you’re under no obligation to use a genealogist if you don’t want to.
If BVD believes you could be entitled to claim, it will ask for documentary evidence. That includes full birth and marriage certificates of everyone between you and the deceased, along with identification documents. Only when your claim has been accepted will you be told the value of the estate.
It’s also worth pointing out that there’s a time limit on making a claim. BVD will accept claims up to 12 years from when administration of the estate was complete, paying interest on the money held. But claims can also be submitted up to 30 years since administration was completed, although in that instance you’re not entitled to any interest.
There’s a much easier way of ensuring that your estate gets to the people you want to benefit, and that’s to make a will!