How to Claim or Refer an Unclaimed Estate


When someone dies without a will – also known as dying intestate – their estate is distributed in line with the rules of intestacy. 

If the deceased has no known relatives, intestacy rules mean that their possessions (including any money, properties, businesses and all other assets) are considered ownerless property and will be passed over to the Crown.

If you know of a relative whose estate has been listed as ownerless (often referred to as ‘bona vacantia’, meaning vacant goods), you could be entitled to a share of the property, depending on the circumstances.

Unclaimed inheritance 

If you believe that you could be entitled to a share of someone’s ownerless estate, you may want to make a claim. The process of making an inheritance claim can be simplified into three steps: 

  1. Check that the estate is listed with the Crown (all unclaimed estates are listed online)
  2. Ensure that you are an entitled relative (there is specific criteria that must be met)
  3. Initiate a claim on the estate (through a professional or independently)

You can see the full unclaimed estates list here on the GOV.UK website, where it’s as simple as using Ctrl+F to search for the name of an individual. 

If you believe an estate is unclaimed but it is not listed on the government’s website, you should inform them of this by ‘referring’ the estate, as explained below. 

Check if you’re an entitled relative

Once you know that the estate is listed as bona vacantia, you should then check whether or not you qualify as an ‘entitled relative’ before making a claim.

Under intestacy rules, if someone dies without a will, their surviving spouse or civil partner has the first claim to the assets listed within their estate, followed by any children.

If there is no married or civil partner or there aren’t any children, other relatives (descended from a grandparent of the deceased) are entitled to a share of the estate. This includes parents, siblings, nieces and nephews, grandparents, aunts and uncles. Those related by marriage (in-laws and step-children) are not entitled to a share of the estate under intestacy rules.

Those who are adopted are entitled to the estate belonging to their adoptive family in the same way that they would be if they were born into it, but they usually have no rights to the estate belonging to members of their birth family.

Making a claim on a deceased person’s estate

Making a claim on an estate can be a daunting task to face alone and it is often recommended that you seek legal advice before trying to do so independently.

If you believe you may be entitled to the unclaimed property of someone you’re related to, be sure to complete our short contact form and a friendly member of our team will be in touch at a time that suits you to talk you through your options.

At some point in the process, you will need some evidence to support your claim. This could be:

  • A family tree proving your relationship to the deceased
  • An example of identification that shows your name
  • Another example of identification proving your name and address (dated within the last three months)

Some claimants may also be required to send birth, death or marriage certificates, depending on the circumstances surrounding the claim. 

Refer an estate 

If you know someone who has died without a will or with no known family, you are able to ‘refer’ the estate, which essentially means informing the Crown about the individual’s unclaimed estate. 

You should only refer an estate if:

  • The deceased did not have a valid will in place at the time of their death
  • There are no surviving blood relatives
  • The estate is not insolvent.

The Government Legal Department (GLD) will handle unclaimed estates in England and Wales, but only if they are valued at £500 or more. Those in Cornwall, Lancaster, Scotland and Northern Ireland are required to contact other bodies who represent the Crown in their location.

Grants from a deceased person's estate

Those who believe that they could be entitled to a share of a deceased person’s estate are able to apply for a grant from it. This often includes people that were close to the individual, but not necessarily a married or civil partner or a blood relative.

Some people that may want to apply for a grant from an estate include:

  • Unmarried partners
  • Close friends
  • Someone who cared for or provided services for the deceased for free (doing their cooking, cleaning, shopping, etc.)
  • Charities or organisations that cared for the deceased

It is important to note that you do not have to be related to the deceased in any way to apply for a grant from their estate.

Inheritance planning with Unite Wills

The issues surrounding unclaimed estates only reiterates the importance of writing a will before it’s too late, as it is the only way of guaranteeing that your estate and assets will be distributed in line with your exact wishes when you’re no longer around.

For more information on claiming or referring an unclaimed estate, get in touch with us for free by completing our short contact form and a member of our team will call you at a convenient time.