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 person’s estate. The person entitled to deal with someone’s estate is known as their ‘legal personal representative’. They are the person entitled to make the claim to the deceased’s 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 parent’s share of the deceased’s 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 relative’s personal representative (the person legally entitled to deal with their estate) must make a claim to the deceased person’s 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 person’s 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 person’s) 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 person’s 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 deceased’s brother) survived the deceased but has since died then it is your father’s estate that is entitled to claim and share in the deceased’s estate. Any claim to the deceased’s estate would have to be made by your father’s 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 deceased’s estate if you are your father’s 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 deceased’s 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.
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.
This will include:
- full birth certificates (showing the parents’ names) and marriage certificates of each person between you and the deceased (including yours and the deceased’s).
- identification documents which provide proof of your name and of your name linked to your address (see a list of acceptable ID documents at the end of this guide)
- a full explanation, supported by evidence, of any discrepancies in the documents supplied with your claim or about any missing documents but you should note that these may affect the acceptance of your claim
BVD may also ask you for other evidence if needed. If additional evidence includes census returns or the 1939 Register, this should be a copy of the actual return not an online transcript of the information contained on the return.
If you are in any doubt about how to prove your claim, you should seek your own advice, from a solicitor, local law centre or the Citizen’s Advice Bureau. BVD cannot advise you.
Incomplete claims submitted to BVD
If you, or your representative, submit a claim that does not provide all the documents required or copy documents that have not been properly certified as true copies of the originals, (including documents of ID and personal representative documents) to show how you are entitled to claim the estate it will be returned to you and copies will not be retained. BVD will generally deal with the first fully documented claim received. If a claim that is incomplete is received first and is then followed by a fully documented claim from someone else – the fully documented claim will be dealt with.
If BVD receive a fully documented claim and subsequently receive a claim from a relative who is higher up the order of priority.
Documents BVD will accept as evidence of formal identification
|Current signed passport||Utility bill (gas, electric, satellite television, landline phone bill) issued within the last three months|
|Original birth certificate (issued within 12 months of the date of birth) in full or short form including those issued by UK authorities overseas such as Embassies High Commissions and HM Forces)||Water bill issued for the current financial year|
|EEA member state identity card||Local authority council tax bill for the current council tax year|
|Current UK or EEA photocard driving licence||EEA member state identity card|
|Full old-style driving licence.||Current UK or EEA photocard driving licence|
|Photographic registration cards for self-employed individuals in the construction industry – CIS4||Original mortgage statement from a recognised lender issued for the last full year|
|Confirmation from DWP of state benefits issued within the current year||Solicitor’s letter confirming recent (within previous three months) house purchase or current Land Registry title view|
|Firearms or shotgun certificate||Council or housing association rent card/statement or tenancy agreement for the current financial year|
|Residence permit issued by the Home Office to EEA nationals on sight of own country’s passport||Confirmation from DWP of state benefits issued within the current year|
|Medical card or letter of confirmation from GP’s practice of registration with the surgery||Bank, Building Society or Credit Union statement (dated within the last three months) or passbook.|
|HMRC self-assessment letters or tax demands dated within the current financial year|
|Medical card or letter of confirmation from GP’s practice of registration with the surgery|
BVD will accept the overseas equivalent of the above documents for claimants who live abroad.
Copies of documents & Certificates
BVD would prefer that you do not send original documents of identity when submitting a claim. BVD will accept good quality copies of certificates and identification documents which have been certified by one of the following as a true copy of the original that they have seen:
Within the UK
- a practising solicitor
- the Post Office’s ID checking service (in which case, please also include the completed ID Checking Service form which has been stamped by the Post Office)
Outside the UK
- an Apostille
- Notary Public
What happens after your claim has been accepted
Acceptance of claims to estates administered by BVD (money held)
You will be informed that your claim has been accepted and the value of the estate. You will be asked to confirm who will be acting as the estate’s administrator if you have not already provided this.
Once BVD is told who will be administering the estate, payment of the monies we are holding will be released to the administrator as follows:
If the money BVD holds is below £15,000
- a draft estate account and an indemnity will be sent to the administrator for signature
- on receipt of the signed estate account and indemnity, payment of the money held by BVD will be made
If the net estate is over £15,000
- BVD will require you to take out a Grant of Letters of Administration and then provide a sealed office copy of that Grant.
- If BVD took out a Grant of Representation it will be revoked and the revocation notice provided to you together with a details of the estate’s assets and liabilities (at the date of death)
- When BVD receives a sealed copy of the Grant of Letters of Administration an estate account will be provided to the administrator
- On receipt of the signed estate account payment of the money held by BVD will be made
Personal information and prevention of crime
BVD will only release information about the value of the estate, or details about its assets and liabilities, to a successful claimant or their representative.