This guidance is for information only, is not intended to be legal advice or to cover every situation that may arise when claiming an estate. If required you should seek your own independent legal advice from a qualified solicitor, your local law centre or Citizens Advice Bureau.
The Bona Vacantia division (BVD) of the Government Legal Department administers the estates of people who die without blood relatives and without leaving a Will
Check your entitlement
Order of priority to share in an intestate estate
If someone dies without leaving a valid or effective will (intestate) the following are entitled to the estate in the order shown below:
- 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
If you are, for example, a first cousin of the deceased, you would only be entitled to share in the estate if there are no relatives above you in the order of entitlement, for example, a niece or nephew.
If your relationship to the deceased is traced through someone who survived the deceased but has since died, you will need to confirm who is entitled to deal with that persons estate. The person entitled to deal with someones estate is known as their legal personal representative. They are the person entitled to make the claim to the deceaseds estate (see Claims from personal representatives below).
For example, children are only entitled to share in an estate if their parent died before the deceased, in which case they take their parents share of the deceaseds estate. If their parent survived the deceased but has subsequently died, then whoever is dealing with their estate should claim. See Claims from Personal Representatives below.
Claims from personal representatives
If an entitled relative survived the deceased but has since died, that relatives personal representative (the person legally entitled to deal with their estate) must make a claim to the deceased persons estate.
Definition of a personal representative
A personal representative is defined (in descending order of priority) as:
If the person who has died left a valid will:
- The person named on the grant of Probate (or Letters of Administration with will annexed) or
- If Probate was not granted to the will, the executor named in the will, or
If they did not leave a valid will:
- The person named on the grant of Letters of Administration or
- If no grant of Letters of Administration, the person entitled to administer their intestate estate
If that persons personal representative subsequently dies then it will be their personal representative who is entitled to deal with both estates.
Where you make a claim as a personal representative, or it is traced through a personal representative or representatives, BVD require a Court sealed copy of all Grants of Probate or Letters of Administration to the relevant estates.
If probate or Letters of Administration have not been applied for, you will need to prove your entitlement by submitting a certified true copy of the original of the will. If your (or another persons) entitlement to act as legal personal representative is based on intestacy you will need to prove your (or their) relationship by supplying the birth and marriage certificates which prove you (or they) are that persons personal representative. You will also need to confirm the dates of death of anyone entitled to act as a personal representative when you submit a claim (see Order of priority to share to an intestate estate above) as well as supplying copies of search results for a grant to the estate concerned which can be obtained from Find a will
For example, if you are a nephew of someone whose estate has been dealt with by BVD but your father (the deceaseds brother) survived the deceased but has since died then it is your fathers estate that is entitled to claim and share in the deceaseds estate. Any claim to the deceaseds estate would have to be made by your fathers personal representative (see Definition of a personal representative above). If your father left a valid will, his personal representative will be the person named on the grant of probate to the will or, if probate was not granted, the executor of the will.
If your father did not leave a will, it will be the person named on the grant of letters of administration to his estate or the person entitled to deal with his intestate estate (see Order of priority to share in an intestate estate above).
You would only be entitled to claim the deceaseds estate if you are your fathers personal representative.
For example, if your father died without leaving a will and there is no grant of letters of administration to his estate and he was married at the time of his death, it will be his spouse who will be his personal representative. If she has since died then it will be her legal personal representative who will be entitled to make a claim to the deceaseds estate (and her personal representative will be determined in the same way as set out in the Definition of a personal representative section). If you are in any doubt about your entitlement to claim the estate, you should either seek your own legal advice or send a family tree, including the dates of death of family members on it, to:
BVD - Estates
You can check whether a grant of Probate or Letters of Administration has been issued using the probate search service and obtain court sealed copies of these by making a postal application to the Probate Registry
Illegitimacy (when a child is born to parents who were not married at the time of his or her birth and they did not subsequently marry) as a bar to intestate succession was removed by the Family Law Reform Act 1987. This means illegitimacy is irrelevant if someone dies on or after 4 April 1988 and their estate can be claimed by those relatives defined by the Administration of Estates Act 1925 whether they were illegitimate or not.
If a deceased person died intestate before 4 April 1988 and was illegitimate, the only persons who are entitled to share in their estate before the Crown are their spouse, children (or their descendants) and parents.
Only adoptions made by Court Order under the Adoption Act (or foreign adoptions recognised by English law) have any legal effect for the purposes of succession. Such an adopted person becomes, for the purposes of succession, the child of his or her adoptive parents and ceases to have any interest in his or her natural family. Legal adoptions have been possible only since 1 January 1927.
Time limits for claiming Estates Administered by BVD
Claims will be accepted by BVD within, generally, 12 years from the date that the administration of the estate was completed and interest will be paid on the money held.
However, BVD will admit fully documented claims up to 30 years from the date of death, subject to no interest being paid on the money held, if the claim is received after the 12 year period above has run out.
Fully documented claims (including documents of ID and personal representative documents) must be received within 30 years of the date of death. If BVD receives a claim whether fully documented or not, outside the 30 year time limit it will not be considered. If an incomplete claim is received, you must supply the documents required to complete the claim within the 30 year time limit or the claim will not be considered.
Genealogists are private companies who trace potentially entitled relatives for commercial gain. They do not work for, on or behalf of, BVD but often make enquiries for relatives after BVD advertises an estate. You do not have to use a genealogists services to make a claim to BVD if you do not wish to do so, and such a decision does not affect any entitlement you may have to share in an estate.
If you are contacted by a genealogist, it is up to you whether you use their services and BVD will not advise you in this respect.