When someone dies in Cornwall with no will or surviving relatives, their property (or ‘estate’) passes to the Duchy of Cornwall. This is known as bona vacantia. After any discretionary payments have been made, His Royal Highness chooses to donate all monies from bona vacantia to the Duke of Cornwall’s Benevolent Fund, which he established in 1975 to benefit local communities in the South West of England. Over the last seven years, The Duke of Cornwall’s Benevolent Fund has donated over £950,000 to a wide range of organisations. Much of this funding goes towards charitable projects that support environmental, conservation, wildlife and community projects, as well as the advancement of art, religion and education. For example, in 2001, The Duke of Cornwall’s Benevolent Fund donated £100,000 to farmers specifically in the South West following the devastation of Foot and Mouth disease.
Part of the common law of England, “bona vacantia” is the legal name for ownerless property. All rights to bona vacantia originally belonged to the Crown – however some have been granted away from time to time.
In the case of the Crown, and since William IV’s reign, these rights have been included among the hereditary revenues surrendered in return for the Civil List. Such cases are therefore dealt with by the Treasury solicitor. However, this does not apply in the counties of Lancashire and Cornwall. Here, bona vacantia is dealt with by the respective Duchies.
The procedures for the administration of bona vacantia in Cornwall are very similar to those of the Treasury Solicitor (see: www.bonavacantia.gov.uk). Discretionary payments may be available to those, who might reasonably have expected to benefit from the estate of the deceased. You can find full guidance on discretionary payments from this website.
Bona vacantia is administered by Farrer & Co on behalf of the Duchy.