Legal Dictionary

bona vacantia

Legal Definition of bona vacantia


  1. Property that belongs to no person, and which may be claimed by a finder. In some states, the government becomes owner of all bona vacantia property.

Definition of bona vacantia


bona vacantia (uncountable)

  1. (in English law) the principle that there is no unowned property, an that if there is no other own property vests in the Crown


  • "The company asked also for an express vesting order concerning the land, which had legally gone to the Crown as bona vacantia"[1]


Further reading

Bona vacantia (Latin for "ownerless goods") is a common law doctrine in the United Kingdom under which ownerless property passes by law to the Crown[1]. It has largely replaced the doctrine of escheat, which had a similar effect in relation to feudal tenures.

In the United Kingdom

The body that administers bona vacantia varies within the UK:

  • In England and Wales, the Bona Vacantia division of the Treasury Solicitor's Department of the UK Government is responsible for dealing with bona vacantia assets[2] except in the Duchy of Lancaster or the Duchy of Cornwall.[3] According the the Treasury Solicitor's Guide to Discretionary Grants in Estates Cases, the department first seeks any possible heirs to an intestate estate and then, only if no heirs can be found, the assets are either donated to charity or "together with other forms of bona vacantia and subject to deduction of the costs of collection and administration, they will be transferred to the Exchequer to be dealt with in the same way as money raised by general taxation."[4] The bona vacantia division chiefly deals with:
    • Treasure troves
    • Assets of dissolved companies
    • Assets of unincorporated associations on dissolution
    • Assets of the estates or parts of estates of those deceased who died intestate and for whom no beneficiaries can be traced
  • In Scotland, bona vacantia refers only to the assets of dissolved companies and lost property, which is administered under the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982. 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 (COPFS)[5].
  • In Northern Ireland, bona vacantia is dealt with by the Crown Solicitor as the Treasury Solicitor's nominee.
  • In the Duchies of Cornwall and Lancaster, bona vacantia is dealt with by a firm of solicitors, Farrer and Co. In both cases, if no rightful owner is found for the assets, any money is donated to charity[6]. Despite the common misconception, none of the assets that fall to the duchies under bona vacantia is used to benefit the Queen, Prince Charles or other members of the British Royal Family.

The Heir Hunters BBC TV programme has made the public more aware of the work of research companies such as Fraser & Fraser, to find the heirs to Bona Vacantia assets.

In the United States

Some states have adapted the concept of bona vacantia.

  • In New York, bona vacantia are called "unclaimed funds" and are handled by the New York State Comptroller.[7] The processing office is at the Rensselaer Technology Park.


  1. Chambers, Robert, Resulting Trusts (Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1997), 59
  2. Official Website of the Duchy of Lancaster
  3. Official Website of the Duchy of Cornwall
  4. THE TREASURY SOLICITOR BONA VACANTIA DIVISION, Guide to Discretionary Grants in Estates Cases, Section 1, paragraph 5,
  5. Official Website of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service of Scotlant
  6. Official Website of the Duchy of Lancaster and Official Website of the Duchy of Cornwall
  7. Office of the State Comptroller official government website unclaimed funds web page. Accessed June 17, 2009.


  1. Wiktionary. Published under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.


1.     landed property
2.     common stock
3.     lex situs
4.     lex causae
5.     lex fori
6.     status quo
7.     buggery
8.     conclusive presumption
9.     interlocutory
10.     writ of seizure and sale