The Duchy of Lancaster plays a special role in administering bona vacantia within the County Palatine.
In English law, title to property must belong to, or ‘vest in’, an identifiable person or body. No property or goods are ownerless. If legal ownership cannot be established by anyone else, it falls to the Crown to deal with the assets concerned. Such property or goods is known as ‘bona vacantia‘.
In most of England and Wales, the Treasury Solicitor handles such cases. In the County Palatine however title vests in The Queen in Right of Her Duchy of Lancaster. When a person dies within the County Palatine without leaving a will and if no other legal ownership can be established the Duchy receives their estate as bona vacantia. Similarly, property in the County Palatine that has been disclaimed – escheated property – also vests in the Crown in Right of the Duchy of Lancaster.
The Solicitor for the Affairs of the Duchy of Lancaster deals with cases of intestacy when no beneficiary entitled at law to claim an estate can be found, or on dissolution of a company which still owns assets. Such cases are administered by the Solicitor in accordance with the Administration of Estates Act 1925, the Companies Act 1985 and other relevant legislation. The procedures are substantially the same as those followed by the Treasury Solicitor elsewhere in England and Wales www.bonavacantia.gov.uk.
Whatever remains undistributed from a person’s estate is the property of The Queen in Right of Her Duchy. Gifts may be made, on the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster’s authority, to those who might reasonably have expected to benefit on a deceased’s death. In the case of dissolved companies, this applies to those who could have claimed ownership had the company not been dissolved. Again, the procedures that we follow are substantially the same as those followed by the Treasury Solicitor and, in a similar manner to the Treasury Solicitor, the Duchy maintains a “late claims fund” to deal with the claims of kin coming forward following the completion of the administration of an estate. A percentage is reserved from all discretionary grants of whole estates and allocated to this fund. As the Duchy distributes the net revenues arising from bona vacantia to charity it needs to maintain this fund at a suitable level and the percentage of the retention from discretionary grants consequently varies from time to time.
Remaining monies from bona vacantia, after allocations have been made for future liabilities and the cost of administering the scheme, are applied to the costs of Palatinate administration and historical obligations. After these costs have been deducted, the balance is paid into one of the registered charities set up with The Queen’s consent, specifically:
- The Duchy of Lancaster Benevolent Fund (established in 1993) to benefit a wide range of charitable associations and organisations operating within the County Palatine.
- The Duchy of Lancaster Jubilee Trust (established in 2001) with separate defined objects, particularly to maintain the historic buildings on Duchy estates.
Please address any bona vacantia or escheat enquiries to: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
Alternatively, please write to:
The Solicitor For the Affairs of the Duchy of Lancaster
Farrer & Co
66 Lincoln’s Inn Fields
Tel: 020 7242 2022