In Part of England, the King Profits From People's Deaths

Monarch's property estate receives funds from those who die without wills, next of kin
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 23, 2023 1:57 PM CST
In Part of England, the King Profits From People's Deaths
Britain's King Charles, left, and the President of Korea Yoon Suk Yeol (not seen) speak as they leave the Ceremonial Welcome ceremony by carriage for Buckingham Palace in London, Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2023.   (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)

The deaths of thousands of people in parts of England have increased the personal wealth of King Charles III, according to a Guardian investigation that might persuade many people—especially those opposed to the monarchy—to write wills. In most of England and Wales, the assets of people who die with no will and no known next of kin go directly to the government. But under a system that dates to feudal times, those assets go to the king's Duchy of Lancaster property estate if the person dies in a former dukedom that covers a large area of northwest England that includes Liverpool and Manchester. In Cornwall, the assets go to the Duchy of Cornwall, now controlled by Prince William.

The duchies have long claimed that the funds, known as "bona vacancia"—Latin for "vacant goods"—are donated to charities. But documents seen by the Guardian show that only a small proportion of the funds go to charities and duchy officials have been granted permission to use bona vacancia funds to upgrade properties that are rented out for profit. One source says duchy officials consider the revenue "free money" and a "slush fund" to renovate properties including town houses and vacation homes. Charles inherited the Duchy of Lancaster when his mother died last year. Earlier this year, he received almost $33 million in his first annual payout from the property estate.

The Guardian notes that many of those who died without wills or next of kin lived in homes far more humble than the ones their assets are being used to renovate. Friends of people whose assets were claimed by the duchy say they're dismayed that the funds are being used to increase the king's wealth. "It's shocking and it shouldn't be happening," says Charlie Briggs, a friend of retired nursery manager Val Taylor, whose assets were transferred to the king's estate after she died last year at age 72. "It would be OK if the money was going to people who deserve it but not if it is going to an organization that has plenty," he says. (More King Charles III stories.)

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