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Bona vacantia

Bona vacantia

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Bona vacantia 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.

Canada


Bona Vacantia is applied according to the laws of the relevant province, the roots of the laws tracing back to English law.

England and Wales


Bona Vacantia is partly a common law
Common law
Common law is law developed by judges through decisions of courts and similar tribunals rather than through legislative statutes or executive branch action...

 doctrine
Doctrine
Doctrine is a codification of beliefs or a body of teachings or instructions, taught principles or positions, as the body of teachings in a branch of knowledge or belief system...

 and partly found in statute. It deals with :
    • Assets of dissolved companies that have failed to be distributed
    • Assets of dissolved unincorporated associations
      Voluntary association
      A voluntary association or union is a group of individuals who enter into an agreement as volunteers to form a body to accomplish a purpose.Strictly speaking, in many jurisdictions no formalities are necessary to start an association...

       that have failed to be distributed
    • Assets of the estates of deceased persons that have failed to be distributed due to intestacy and a lack of known persons entitled to inherit
    • Some failed trust property

  • In the Duchies of Cornwall
    Duchy of Cornwall
    The Duchy of Cornwall is one of two royal duchies in England, the other being the Duchy of Lancaster. The eldest son of the reigning British monarch inherits the duchy and title of Duke of Cornwall at the time of his birth, or of his parent's succession to the throne. If the monarch has no son, the...

     and Lancaster
    Duchy of Lancaster
    The Duchy of Lancaster is one of the two royal duchies in England, the other being the Duchy of Cornwall. It is held in trust for the Sovereign, and is used to provide income for the use of the British monarch...

    , a firm of solicitor
    Solicitor
    Solicitors are lawyers who traditionally deal with any legal matter including conducting proceedings in courts. In the United Kingdom, a few Australian states and the Republic of Ireland, the legal profession is split between solicitors and barristers , and a lawyer will usually only hold one title...

    s, Farrer and Co, deals with bona vacantia. In both cases, if no rightful owner is found for the assets, they are donated to charity.


In England and Wales
England and Wales
England and Wales is a jurisdiction within the United Kingdom. It consists of England and Wales, two of the four countries of the United Kingdom...

, the Bona Vacantia Division of the Treasury Solicitor's Department
Treasury Solicitor's Department
The Treasury Solicitor's Department is the largest in-house legal organisation in the United Kingdom's Government Legal Service.The Department is headed by the Treasury Solicitor. This office goes back several centuries...

 of the UK
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 Government is responsible for dealing with bona vacantia assets except in the Duchy of Lancaster
Duchy of Lancaster
The Duchy of Lancaster is one of the two royal duchies in England, the other being the Duchy of Cornwall. It is held in trust for the Sovereign, and is used to provide income for the use of the British monarch...

 or the Duchy of Cornwall
Duchy of Cornwall
The Duchy of Cornwall is one of two royal duchies in England, the other being the Duchy of Lancaster. The eldest son of the reigning British monarch inherits the duchy and title of Duke of Cornwall at the time of his birth, or of his parent's succession to the throne. If the monarch has no son, the...

. The Treasury Solicitor is appointed by Royal Warrant to be the Crown's Nominee for the collection of Bona Vacantia

The Division has a detailed website—http://www.bonavacantia.gov.uk—which sets out full practices and procedures. In estates cases the Division first seeks (by advertisement and some enquiry) heirs to an estate and if none come to their notice then eventually the assets are realised and the balance transferred to HM Treasury. The process can take a number of years to complete and deals only with solvent estates whose net value exceeds 500 pounds http://www.bonavacantia.gov.uk/output/estates.aspx.

In dissolved company cases the assets automatically pass to the Crown by law, are realised by the Division and the revenue passed to the Exchequer. The Division has a power to disclaim onerous assets and will routinely disclaim http://www.bonavacantia.gov.uk/output/BVC8-1-Adverse-Possession-of-Land-and-Building-where-Title-is-not-registered.aspx land in adverse possession
Adverse possession
Adverse possession is a process by which premises can change ownership. It is a common law concept concerning the title to real property . By adverse possession, title to another's real property can be acquired without compensation, by holding the property in a manner that conflicts with the true...

 but not in every case. 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.

Guernsey


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).

New Zealand


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.

Northern Ireland


In Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland is one of the four countries of the United Kingdom. Situated in the north-east of the island of Ireland, it shares a border with the Republic of Ireland to the south and west...

, bona vacantia is dealt with by the Crown Solicitor as the Treasury Solicitor's agent. The value of the assets collected in Northern Ireland are separately identified in the annual report of HM Procurator General and Treasury Solicitor Accounts for the Crown’s Nominee.

Scotland


In Scotland
Scotland
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...

, Bona Vacantia deals with assets of dissolved companies, the assets of missing persons and lost or abandoned property; lost or abandoned property involves a statutary saving for the Crown in ss.67-79 of the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982
Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982
The Civic Government Act 1982 is an Act of the United Kingdom Parliament which makes provision for a wide range of civic government matters....

. 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 TroveThe separate doctrine of ultimus haeres
Ultimus haeres
Ultimus haeres is a concept in Scots law where if a person in Scotland who dies without leaving a will and has no blood relative who can be easily traced, the estate is claimed by the Queen's and Lord Treasurer's Remembrancer on behalf of the Crown.In England, the equivalent concept is called...

 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
Queen's and Lord Treasurer's Remembrancer
The Queen's and Lord Treasurer's Remembrancer is an officer in Scotland who represents the Crown's interests in bona vacantia, ultimus haeres and treasure trove....

, an office held by the Crown Agent, the senior official in the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS).. Bona Vacantia assets in Scotland are not aggregated with those from elsewhere in the United Kingdom, being paid directly into the Scottish Consolidated Fund
Scottish Consolidated Fund
The Scottish Consolidated Fund is the main fund operated by the Scottish Parliament. It receives a block grant from the UK Parliament's Consolidated Fund plus the operational receipts of the Scottish Government...

.

United States of America



Bona Vacantia was inherited from English Common Law and continues in the form of Unclaimed Property Laws, which vary 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.

See also

  • Escheat
    Escheat
    Escheat is a common law doctrine which transfers the property of a person who dies without heirs to the crown or state. It serves to ensure that property is not left in limbo without recognised ownership...

  • Lost, mislaid, and abandoned property
    Lost, mislaid, and abandoned property
    Lost, mislaid, and abandoned property are categories of the common law of property which deals with personal property which has left the possession of its rightful owner without having directly entered the possession of another person...

  • Claims Conference
    Claims Conference
    The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, or Claims Conference, represents world Jewry in negotiating for compensation and restitution for victims of Nazi persecution and their heirs...

    - The Claims Conference administers compensation funds and recovers unclaimed Jewish property.

External links