1. Introduction

This policy only applies to people who are known to adult services who die intestate (i.e. without having made a will) and who have no known relatives. If the person has left a will, then the person(s) they have named as executor must be contacted to dispose of the person’s estate. If the executors have pre-deceased the person, cannot be contacted or do not wish to act as executor, the beneficiaries of the will can execute the will. If the person has not left a will but has living relatives, then it is for them to agree how the estate should be disposed of. The nearest relative should be informed of the person’s death, if they do not already know.

If the person has no known relatives, the local authority must take the necessary steps to dispose of the person’s estate. If the person has a Public Authority Deputy, then that person must ensure the following steps are taken. If they do not, the relevant social worker must ensure the steps are taken.

The City Treasury must be notified that someone has died intestate with no known relatives. The Treasury will nominate an officer to take the next steps either directly or who in conjunction with the social worker. First, the person’s property must be safeguarded. For guidance on how to do this, please see the policy for the Protection of Property and Pets. Reasonable steps must then be taken to ascertain whether the person left a will. There is no legal guidance on what constitutes ‘reasonable’ but it should include a search of the person’s effects and contact with local solicitors who may have drawn up such a will. If no will can be found, the nominated officer should make an estimate of the deceased person’s estate. If it is likely to be in excess of £500, after debts and funeral expenses have been paid, the Bona Vacantia division of the government legal department must be notified using form BV1A. It is important to note that a death certificate must be obtained prior to notifying the Bona Vacantia division.

2. Funeral Arrangements

Arrangements must then be made for the person’s funeral. If there is no one who is available or willing to arrange a funeral, then the local authority has a legal duty to do so under Section 46(i) of the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984.

The funeral expenses are the first charge on the estate which means payment of them takes priority over all other debts. Some asset holders, such as banks or building societies are willing to pay the funeral expenses from the deceased’s account before an administrator (the person responsible for dealing with the estate) is appointed but ultimately that is a matter for them.

Before making funeral arrangements a check must be made on:

  • whether there are sufficient funds in the person’s estate to pay for it;
  • whether an asset holder is willing to settle the account from those funds.

Floral, or other tributes, are the responsibility of the person ordering them, and the cost of these is not claimable from the estate.

It may be possible to claim back other expenses that could be incurred in dealing with an estate before an administrator is appointed, such as the costs of a funeral tea or a wake. Receipts must always be kept in order to make a claim but it should be borne in mind that reimbursement is ultimately a matter for the administrator to agree. If the administrator considers that the costs are not reasonable, were not incurred for the benefit of the estate or cannot be justified, then they may not be reimbursed.

If the person does not have sufficient assets to cover the cost of a funeral, the local authority must do this. The City Treasury will advise on the process for this.

3. Ending of a Tenancy

Where the deceased was living in rented accommodation it may be in the best interests of the estate for the tenancy to be terminated before an administrator has been appointed in order to prevent rent arrears building up, and to release the property back to the landlord. Even where the Bona Vacantia Division has an interest in the estate, they would have no objection to this being done provided that:

  • the furniture and effects are disposed to the best advantage of the estate;
  • the deceased’s personal papers and details of assets and liabilities are retained and protected.

A tenancy can only be ended on behalf of a deceased person by the executor of their will or an administrator given grant of probate. If the deceased person has not made a will, they will not have an executor and if they have assets worth less than £500, an administrator will not be appointed. The only way to legally end the tenancies of people in this position is for notice to quit to be  served on the Public Trustee. This should be sent to:

The Official Solicitor and Public Trustee
Post Point 0.53
102 Petty France

4. Disposal of Property

4.1 Assets in excess of £500

Arrangements must then be made to dispose of the person’s property. A full inventory should be made which must be amended to show income if and when furniture or other items are sold and any cash or valuable items must be stored securely. If the value of the estate is likely to be more than £500 after debts and funeral expenses have been paid, the Bona Vacantia division of the government legal department must be notified using form BV1A which is available online via gov.uk. It is important to note that a death certificate must be obtained prior to notifying the Bona Vacantia division.

Furniture and effects should be disposed to the best advantage of the estate. If the cost of storing property, possibly for several months is likely to cost more than the property is worth, agreement should be sought from the Bona Vacantia division to sell at auction or otherwise dispose of the property. No employee of Hull City Council can benefit in any way from the disposal of a deceased person’s property.

Once the referral has been received, the Bona Vacantia division will aim to add, within five working days, details of the estate to its unclaimed list to enable executors or entitled relatives to come forward and for the Bona Vacantia division to give up the Crown’s interest in the estate. If evidence is received that the Bona Vacantia division has no interest in the estate they will return the referral papers to Hull City Council, and the Executor or entitled relative (or their representative) will be advised that they have done so.
If neither a valid Will nor relatives are traced, the Bona Vacantia division will contact Hull City Council to collect anything held on behalf of the estate in order to start the administration – this can take a few months.

4.2 Assets worth less than £500

If the value of the estate, including the estimated value at auction of any personal effects, is less than £500 after debts are settled and reasonable funeral costs paid, the Bona Vacantia division will not take an interest. The local authority should take reasonable steps to identify anyone legally entitled to inherit under intestate law, i.e. parent, sibling, child, grandchild or other direct descendant aunt / uncle whether full or half relative. Reasonable steps might include placing adverts in local newspapers, placing details of the deceased person on the City Council website or asking friends of the deceased person for information.

If reasonable efforts to trace entitled relatives have been fruitless, the person’s assets are legally unowned and the local authority can take possession of them. No guidance exists on how long to wait before taking possession of ownerless goods but six months may be regarded as reasonable. After this time, any personal effects, such as jewellery can be sold at auction with the proceeds being claimed by the City Treasury. If an entitled relative later comes forward, he or she can claim the estate and the City Council would need to pay them the value of the estate at the point at which efforts to trace relatives were abandoned. No employee of the City Council can benefit in any way from the disposal of personal effects or other property.