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Who is entitled to an unclaimed estate?

View profile for Sarah Begley
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First, what is an unclaimed estate? An unclaimed estate or unclaimed inheritance occurs when someone dies intestate, i.e. without leaving a will. It may also happen when an old will is in place and the person’s intended beneficiaries died.

The general rules of intestacy are—the person’s spouse or civil partner and then any children have the first claim to an estate. If there is no spouse, civil partner or child, anyone who is descended from a grandparent of the deceased person is entitled to a share of their estate—this could be cousins, the off-spring of cousins etc. People who are related by marriage are not entitled.

Adopted children have the same rights as children who are born into a family, but no rights to the estate of their birth family.


Unclaimed inheritance

The issue of unclaimed inheritance crops up more often than you think. People can leave it too late to make a will, or they might feel that it isn’t worth doing, especially if they don’t have a living spouse or children.

If you are entitled to a share of an inheritance you will need evidence to prove your relationship to the deceased—a family tree that shows your relationship to the deceased.

You also need to give two separate pieces of personal identification—one that shows your full name and the other that lists your name and address and is less than three months old (a utility bill, for example). You might also be required to provide your birth certificate, and birth, marriage and death certificates for the deceased.

Property and personal possessions

In most cases, an unclaimed inheritance will be money but it might also include property or personal possessions.

What sort of time frame are we looking at? The time it takes will vary according to the size of the estate, locating the assets, the number of heirs and if there are problems tracing and proving or disproving all entitled beneficiaries. To deal with the estate you would need to go through the process of applying for letters of administration which enables you to deal with the assets

In general, low value estates where there aren’t many heirs are easier to administer and can take less time than a high value estate with many heirs—as the beneficiaries to Prince’s estate can tell you…

The process could take three to six months in a best-case scenario or several years if not.

Of course if you have a will this can avoid any of these problems!

At Martin Tolhurst Solicitors we have team of lawyers that specialise in the preparation of wills, tax planning and estate administration. We can work with you to help you prepare your will or advise you on how to administer an estate.

Get in touch today to discuss more on 01474 546 013 or email our new enquires team at

Please note that this article does not constitute individual advice and is for guidance only.


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