Bona vacantia (Latin for "ownerless goods") is a legal concept
associated with property that has no owner. It exists in various
jurisdictions, with consequently varying application, but with origins
mostly in English law.
2 New Zealand
3 United Kingdom
3.1 England and Wales
Cornwall and Lancashire
3.2 Northern Ireland
3.4 Crown dependencies
4 United States of America
5 See also
7 External links
Bona vacantia is applied according to the laws of the relevant
province, and the roots of the laws may be traced to Roman law.
Similarly to England, unclaimed money will mostly revert to the
Crown who may then make further distribution. Unclaimed property
other than money might also be claimed on behalf of the Crown but (as
with the UK jurisdictions) this is not inevitable.
England and Wales
Bona vacantia is partly a common law doctrine and partly found in
statute. It deals with:
Assets of dissolved companies that have failed to be distributed
Assets of dissolved unincorporated associations that have failed to be
Assets of the estates of deceased persons that have failed to be
distributed due to intestacy and a lack of known persons entitled to
Some failed trust property
For most of England and Wales, the Bona Vacantia Division of the
Government Legal Department is responsible for dealing with bona
vacantia assets on behalf of the Crown. If no heirs to an estate
can be found then the assets are realised and the balance is
transferred to HM Treasury. The division deals only with solvent
estates whose net value exceeds £500. The assets of dissolved
companies automatically pass to the Crown by law. They are realised by
the division and the revenue passed to the Exchequer, although the
division has a power to disclaim onerous assets. Liabilities
associated with assets do not automatically follow those assets into
bona vacantia. Care should be taken to distinguish between assets
remaining when dissolution commences (which, e.g., might be
distributed to shareholders or others in that process) and those that
for various valid reasons remain undistributed at the end of
dissolution. Some assets might only come to notice after dissolution
has taken place.
Cornwall and Lancashire
For assets based in
Cornwall and within the traditional boundaries of
the county palatine of Lancashire, Farrer & Co solicitors deal
with bona vacantia on behalf of the Duchy of
Cornwall and the Duchy of
Lancaster respectively. In both cases, if no rightful owner is
found for the assets, the assets legally pass to the respective
duchies. Current practice for both is to donate these assets to
charity. In Lancaster the beneficiaries are the Duchy of Lancaster
Benevolent Fund and the
Duchy of Lancaster
Duchy of Lancaster Jubilee Trust, while in
Cornwall The Duke of Cornwall's Benevolent Fund receives the
When the English King established in 1230 the Office of the Royal
Escheator to centralize bona vancatia, Earl Edmund of
his claim to bona vancatia by having his viscounts continue to handle
them. Until the 1337 and 1338 Duchy Charters, the issue was
contentious between the king and earl. In the Duchy Charters, the King
formalized the bona vancatia right with the duchy.[verification
In Northern Ireland, bona vacantia is dealt with by the Crown
Solicitor as the Treasury Solicitor's agent. The value of the assets
Northern Ireland are separately identified in the annual
report of HM Procurator General and Treasury Solicitor Accounts for
the Crown's Nominee.
In Scotland, bona vacantia deals with assets of dissolved companies,
the assets of missing persons and lost or abandoned property; lost or
abandoned property involves a statutory saving for the Crown in
ss.67–79 of the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982. It is
mostly controlled by Common Law with some statutes dealing with
specific matters such as lost property; the concept also extends to
such matters as Treasure trove The separate doctrine of ultimus
haeres states that the assets of those who die intestate leaving no
other person entitled to inherit pass to the Crown. Both of these
rights, together with treasure trove, are administered by the Queen's
and Lord Treasurer's Remembrancer, an office held by the Crown Agent,
the senior official in the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service
Bona vacantia assets in
Scotland are not aggregated with
those from elsewhere in the United Kingdom, being paid directly into
the Scottish Consolidated Fund.
In Guernsey, assets of dissolved companies may become bona vacantia
under s.369 of the Companies (Guernsey) Law, as amended, and are
administered by the Receiver-General (HM Procureur).
United States of America
Bona vacantia was inherited from English Common Law and continues in
the form of lost, mislaid, and abandoned property, applied only to
personal property that has left the owner's possession, as opposed to
an estate left in intestacy after death. Intangible personal assets
such as checks, account balances, and securities are under unclaimed
property law, varying by state. The states do not take permanent
possession, but act as the custodian of the property in perpetuity on
behalf of the rightful owner.
Claims Conference, administers compensation funds and recovers
unclaimed Jewish property
^ The Treasurer (New Zealand) – Unclaimed Money
^ treasury.govt.nz Archived November 29, 2010, at the Wayback Machine.
^ a b c "Laws surrounding Duchy of
Cornwall seen as 'mysterious,
complex and arcane'". Western Morning News. Local World. November 19,
2011. Retrieved August 25, 2015.
^ Bona Vacantia Division. gov.uk
26 August 2015. Missing or empty title= (help)
^ a b "Bona Vacantia and the Duke of Cornwall's Benevolent Fund".
Duchy of Cornwall.org. Duchy of Cornwall. Retrieved August 25,
^ "Bona Vacantia". duchyoflancaster.co.uk. Duchy of Lancaster.
Retrieved August 25, 2015.
^ "Inside the Duchy of
Cornwall - part four". Western Morning News.
Local World. July 16, 2015. Retrieved August 25, 2015.
^ Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service – Bona Vacantia
^ http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2003/11/18319/27604 –
Review of Treasure Trove Arrangements in Scotland
^ Official Website of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service
^ British Columbia, Ministry of Finance and Corporate Relations –
Unclaimed Intangible Property Administration in British Columbia
Treasury Solicitor's Department
Crown Office & Procurator Fi