According to The Mirror, 50 people a week die with no obvious next of kin and — due to budget cuts — Government lawyers are no longer looking for Wills if there is no obvious next of kin. This means the state inherits the lot, unless the rightful heirs take action and make their claim. Or fraudsters step forward and make theirs.
So, what can you do if you think you might be a named benefactor in such a Will? And what can you do to ensure your own estate does not fall into the wrong hands?
Each week another 50 names go onto the Government's unclaimed estate list (an official list of people who have died with no obvious next of kin). Government lawyers used to take time to research whether these people had legal Wills in place. Since 2015, claims The Mirror, they have not been carrying out these legal checks. If nobody comes forward to claim them, they become the property of the Crown.
Many of the people in this list have left a Will though, as evidenced by Finders International, an organisation that specialises in tracing heirs to estates, properties and assets.
"Valid Wills do exist for, on average, one in every five cases currently being advertised as intestacies without a Will by the Government," said Danny Curran, of Finders International in The Mirror's article.
Danny went on to illustrate three big problems that arise because of the Government's cut backs:
"Firstly, estates could be passing to the wrong people; secondly, family members are having their hopes of inheritance dashed and lastly, legal support services are having to pick up the bill to conduct will searches where no other party is willing to.
"Most importantly, because no one is checking for a Will at the outset of death, the deceased's wishes remain unfulfilled."
The International Association of Professional Probate Researchers, Genealogists and Heir Hunters (IAPPR) estimates that millions of pounds' worth of inheritance money could end up in the wrong hands, even in the hands of fraudsters, with many firms, aware of the growing number of names on the list, beginning to target it.
What can you do if you think you might be a named benefactor in such a Will?
The good news is that you have at least 12 years from the date of someone's death to claim an inheritance from estates named in the official list of unclaimed estates (which, by the way, is updated every Thursday). If your claim is successful, the Government will even pay interest on the money you're due. In some circumstances, it's possible to make a successful claim up to 30 years after someone's death, though this is more complicated and we advise taking legal advice.
If somebody who you believe made a Will is in this list, and you know where the Will is — and it can be verified as legal — it may be quite straight forward to make your own claim, following advice on making a claim on the Government's official website.
Or, if they haven't contacted you already (which is quite likely if you are related to the person who has died, because they take a look at the list each week to see if there is anyone who can be easily traced who could be rightful heirs), you can ask genealogical firms like Finders International, Title Research and Fraser & Fraser to see if they can help.
This is likely to cost you (some charge a flat fee, others a percentage of your inheritance) if you do succeed in a claim. It is generally free though to check if you're eligible.
What can you do to ensure your own estate does not fall into the wrong hands?
You can read more about this by clicking on the links above.
And you know what our advice is going to be don't you?
- Make a Will
- Store it somewhere safe
- Let someone you trust know where your Will is stored!