Unclaimed Estates

This week it has been reported in various outlets the most likely 15 surnames that are owed an inheritance.

Unsurprisingly, names like ‘Smith’ and ‘Jones’ are high on the list for those falling into the unclaimed estates pile. With Smith being attached to 122 unclaimed estates, with an estimated £18.3 million worth of funds owing.

An unclaimed estate usually occurs where somebody has died without making a will and their family can not be tracked down. In these cases the Crown Estate will take ownership of the funds.


Eleanor Stenson, Partner at IDR Law comments on this story and the importance of succession planning.


More often than not, an inheritance follows a loss but for claimants of these type of unclaimed estates, that may not be the case as they may not have been close to the deceased or even knew them. It is a useful reminder of those estates where there have been significant family fall outs and distant and strained relationships over time and in those circumstances, people can be nervous about claims against their estate after they’ve gone.

By making a Will (and crucially, telling the relevant people about it and where they can find it!) this can ensure that there is clarity in the administration of your estate to prevent it being lost. Even if someone were to claim against your Estate, the Courts are reluctant to deviate from people’s wishes, so it is important to put these in place.


Unclaimed estates explained

An unclaimed estate generally occurs when somebody dies intestate.

Intestacy refers to a situation where someone passes away without leaving a will. When this occurs the distribution of their assets is passed down and governed by the rules of intestacy, these rules determine who is entitled to the estate.

Surviving Spouse or civil Partner

Surviving spouses and civil partners have priority in most countries’ intestacy rules. England and Wales are no different, but the amount a surviving spouse or civil partner will inherit depends

on the size of the estate and whether you there are also children.


Children or direct descendants

If there is no surviving spouse or civil partner (so single, divorced, widowed, or cohabitee), then the deceased’s children will inherit. The estate will be split equally between them. As above, if one the deceased’s children has died before the deceased, but they have children or grandchildren of their own, these direct descendants will inherit their parent’s share.



If the deceased was not married or in a civil partnership and also has no children, then any surviving parents will inherit the estate (equally if both still alive).


Your brothers and sisters

If the deceased was not married or in a civil partnership and also has no children, then any surviving parents will inherit the estate (equally if both still alive).

Remoter family members

This is where it gets more complicated:

– Grandparents of the Deceased (equal claims from both sides of the deceased’s parents’ families).


– Aunts and Uncles of the Deceased (again their children take their share if they died before the deceased).


– Half-aunts and half- uncles (someone who shares one biological parent with one of the deceased’s parents (again their children take their share if they died before the deceased).


See our Intestacy Flowchart to get to grips with how it all works.

Are you sure there is no will?

It is important to establish if a Will exists prior to distributing an estate under the rules of intestacy or before making a claim to an estate. If a Will does exist, it will name the Executors and Beneficiaries that the deceased had wished to leave their estate to. It is not uncommon for the Testator (the person who wrote the Will) to not share that a Will exists or where it is located, which can lead to complications when they pass away. It is not unusual for the existence of a Will or its whereabouts to be unknown, resulting in the estate being treated incorrectly as intestate. If you are distributing an estate for a loved one you are financially liable for any errors made during distribution. You therefore should take steps to understand whether or not a Will existed prior to applying for Letters of Administration to protect yourself. To do this you can use Certainty the National Will Register to check to see if a Will exists.

Certainty the National Will Register is The Law Society’s provider of a National Will Register for England and Wales. A Certainty Will Search checks to see if a Will was registered at the National Will Register and also searches nationally for Wills held by solicitors and Will writers that have not been registered. There is a small charge for a Will search which can be claimed back from the estate as it is a legal disbursement and you receive a Certainty Will Search report. Retain this report as it provides evidence that you took the necessary steps to understand if a Will existed and therefore protects you.


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