Category Archives: Your Probate Questions

We answer generic probate questions

Bona Vacantia

Bona Vacantia – the estates of folk who die with no Will and no known blood relatives.

With the incredibly low level of people who have a reasonably recently reviewed Will with can be found at the time of their death, it is not surprising that many estates end up going to the Crown via the Bona Vacantia Department of the Treasury Solicitor.

They publish lists of the estate they have in their care, and just maybe you might be entitled to something.  Many people are approached by Heir Hunters on the basis that they might be beneficiaries of Bona Vacantia estates.

Be aware that this is a brief summary of our understanding of the situation – we are not Heir Hunters, nor can we provide further advice in this area.  Explore the links given for further information, or contact the Bona Vacantia Department direct.  We have no connection with them.

So how do you find out if you may be entitled?

This is the order of entitlement if there is no valid Will:

  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)

For example, a first cousin of the deceased, would only be entitled to share in the estate if there are no relatives who are higher in the order of entitlement.

If your relationship to the deceased is traced through someone who survived the deceased but has since died, you will need to confirm what happened to that person’s estate, as their share would have been passed on either under their Last Will or under the Rules of Intestacy.

Children are only entitled to share in an estate if their qualifying 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 below).

Make a claim to Bona Vacantia Department

The Treasury Solicitor publishes a list of all Bona Vacantia estates which have yet to be claimed since 1997 which is updated daily, with new estates added and estates which have been claimed taken off.

If you believe you are entitled to share in an estate which has been dealt with by BVD, please send them (NOT us!) a family tree showing how you are related to the person who has died, and include the dates of birth, marriage and death of all those on the tree.   If it appears that you may be entitled to share in the estate, the Bona Vacantia Department require you to supply evidence that clearly demonstrates your entitlement.

Evidence which may:

  • full birth certificates (showing the parents’ names) and marriage certificates of each person (including yours and the deceased’s) between you and the deceased. If BVD need death certificates of any of those in the family chain, these will be requested separately
  • 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)
  • court sealed copies of Grants of Probate or Letters of Administration if you are claiming as a personal representative
  • information that you or any other person may have regarding the deceased person’s life history, including their occupation, last known address and when you were last in contact with them
  • an explanation, supported by evidence, of any discrepancies in the documents supplied with your claim or about any missing documents

BVD may also ask you for other evidence if needed.

Claims from personal representatives

If an entitled relative survived the deceased but has since died, that relative’s personal representative must make a claim to the deceased person’s estate. A personal representative is either the executor of their Will or the person entitled to share in their estate if they did not leave a Will.

If your relationship to the deceased is traced through someone who survived the deceased but has since died, you will need to confirm what happened to that person’s estate.

Obtaining documents for your claim

Certificates issued in the United Kingdom can be obtained from the local registrar where the event took place or as follows:

England and Wales

General Register Office
PO Box 2

Further information can be found on the General Register Office website.


Further details can be found on the Scottish General Register Office website

Northern Ireland

Before 1922:

General Register Office
Government Offices
Republic of Ireland

Further details can be found on the Republic of Ireland General Register Officewebsite.

After 1922:

Register General for Northern Ireland
Oxford House
49-55 Chichester Street

Further details can be found on the Register General for Northern Ireland website.


If you are supplying certificates and identity documents in languages other than English you will need to supply a certified English translation of each document.

Proving claims

You must provide sufficient documentary evidence to satisfy BVD that, on balance, you are related to the deceased and entitled to share in their estate before the Crown.

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. The Treasury Solicitor cannot advise you.

Admission of claims

BVD will deal with, and admit, the first fully documented claim they receive which is supported by sufficient evidence.

Once a claim is accepted BVD do not need claims from other relatives, as their claim is protected by law and should be made direct to the successful claimant or their representative, as it is their legal duty to deal with the estate appropriately.

Personal information and prevention of crime

BVD will only release information about the value of the estate, or the assets and liabilities, to a successful claimant.

Time limits

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 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.


Genealogists are private organisations who trace potentially entitled relatives for commercial gain. They do not work for the Treasury Solicitor, but often make enquiries for blood relatives after BVD advertises an estate. You do not have to use a genealogist’s services 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 cannot advise you in this respect.

Identity documents

You must submit one form of identification as proof of your name and one as proof of your name linked to your address.

You cannot use one form of identification for both name and address. For example, if you provide your driving licence as proof of your name you must provide another form of identification for your address, such as a utility bill.

Copies of documents

BVD will only accept good quality copies of certificates and identification documents if they have been certified by one of the following as a true copy of the original that they have seen:

  • UK solicitor
  • Justice of the Peace
  • accountant
  • high street bank manager
  • a qualified lawyer (or notary public if you live outside the United Kingdom)
  • 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)

The person certifying must also provide the name and address of the firm or bank in which they are employed (unless documents have been certified under the Post Office ID Checking Service).


Liverpool Wirral Coroner

Families of bereaved people across Liverpool and Wirral will receive better coroner services in the future.

Merseyside Coroner

Families of bereaved people across Liverpool and Wirral will receive better coroner services in the future Justice Minister Simon Hughes has announced.

The permanent merger of the Liverpool and Wirral coroner services will greatly improve coroner services in the north west, and generate efficiencies for the local authorities affected.

The needs of grieving people will be firmly at the heart of the coroners system – with an emphasis on speeding up inquests and providing more consistent services.

The government is committed to raising standards of coroner services across England and Wales. Merging Liverpool and Wirral services is a significant step in doing so, and will help to end what has previously been described as a ‘postcode lottery’.

Justice Minister Simon Hughes said:

We want to make sure grieving families receive the highest level of service when they are most in need, which is why we are determined that inquests are conducted quickly and consistently right across the country.

The merger of the Liverpool and Wirral coroners areas are part of the reforms we set in motion two years ago to prioritise the needs of bereaved people while cutting costs for local authorities.

No courts or inquest venues will close as a result of the merger.

The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) supports and encourages the amalgamation of smaller or part-time coroner areas to create more fully-loaded caseloads for full-time coroners, to promote consistency over a wider area and generate efficiencies for the local authorities which fund coroner services.

As a result of the merger the Liverpool and Wirral Senior Coroner will receive additional resources to support the caseload and maintain quality of coronial services.

MOJ has carried out considerable reforms in the past 2 years to improve coroner services across England and Wales and increase consistency of practice between coroner areas. These include:

  • creation of a new national code of practice – setting out what service and standards bereaved people can expect from coroners
  • appointment of the first ever Chief Coroner of England and Wales (His Honour Judge Peter Thornton QC) to oversee the coroner system
  • requiring inquests to be completed within 6 months of the date on which the coroner is made aware of the death, unless there are good reasons not to
  • requiring coroners to notify those who are bereaved within a week of setting the date for the inquest
  • requiring coroners to notify those who are bereaved of the date of the inquest within a week of setting the date
  • providing greater access to documents and evidence, such as post-mortem reports, before the inquest takes place, to enable bereaved families to prepare for the hearing
  • permitting less invasive post-mortem examinations
  • speeding up the release of bodies after post-mortem examination, and requiring coroners to notify the deceased’s next of kin or personal representative if the body cannot be released within 28 days

Government’s New Wills Archive

More than 6 million searches of the government’s new archive of wills have been made in just 1 month.

Tens of thousands of people have gone online to buy copies of the wills of family members, famous names and historical figures by using the new digital service.

(Please don’t ring The Probate Department Ltd about this – we’re a private company, not a Government Department.  The link to search for a Will which has been probated is at the foot of the page.)

The archive contains more than 41 million wills held by the Probate Registry since 1858 when the documents became public records.

It includes the last wishes of leaders and high profile musicians and writers like John Lennon, JRR Tolkien and Freddie Mercury.

They also include wartime leader Winston Churchill, whose death was 50 years ago this week.

Since the launch on Saturday 27 December almost 25,000 wills have been bought, showing the strength of interest in the documents.

Justice Minister Lord Faulks said:

I am delighted so many people have taken advantage of our unique archive of wills and are looking into the histories of their families.

This is an incredible resource and I’m not surprised in the slightest that it has captured the public imagination so strongly.

Now we can all learn about the last wishes of our long lost great aunts from the comfort of our living room.

The innovative project has been carried out by HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) and storage and information management company Iron Mountain.

The project is a great example of how the government is opening up public services. It means requests can be dealt with quickly and without people needing to visit the Probate Registry to search archives in person.

The availability of the database of 41 million wills follows the first stage of opening up the archive when soldiers’ wills were made available in 2013. There have since been more than 2 million searches of that archive.

The latest phase in the programme means that people can now request a specific will online and receive an electronic copy within 10 working days.

Creating the wills archive is part of ongoing work to transform HMCTS to make it a modern, efficient, digital service which is easy for the public to access.

More than 150 cases have been filmed in the Court of Appeal since the government changed the law to allow court broadcasting in 2013 and £160 million is being invested in digital technology for courtrooms including video links, wi-fi and improved IT systems to end the system’s reliance on paper.

You can search for a will here.