More than £1 million has passed to the Prince of Wales’s Duchy of Cornwall estate in the last six years from people who died without making a will or having an heir, latest accounts show.
Under powers dating back to medieval times, the Duchy is entitled to all unclaimed property and estates left when someone dies in Cornwall, in an arrangement known as bona vacantia.
In the last financial year alone, £552,000 passed to the Duchy under the ancient law, which was put in place when the Duchy was created by Edward III in 1337 for his son and heir, Edward, the Black Prince.
The Prince of Wales does not, however, keep any of the money; instead it is distributed in charitable donations through the Duke of Cornwall’s Benevolent Fund, with a small amount kept in reserve for any future claims on unclaimed estates.
In most of Britain, the estates of people who die without making a will, and who have no obvious heirs, go to the Government.
But because Cornwall is owned by the Prince of Wales, unclaimed estates go to the Duchy, which has been the personal possession of the eldest son of the sovereign since the Charter of Edward III.
Since 2006 a total of £1,019,000 has come to the Duchy under bona vacantia, the Latin for vacant land.
Last year the Duke of Cornwall’s Benevolent Fund received £450,000 as a result of bona vacantia, with a total of £154,000 being held in reserve for any future claims.
A Duchy of Cornwall spokesperson said: “The Prince of Wales decided almost forty years ago that the bona vacantia funds should be given to charity.”
The anti-monarchy campaign group Republic said the Prince had “no right” to the funds.
As the Duke of Cornwall, the Prince has several little-known rights and powers, including the right to veto Westminster legislation.
Last year the Prince earned £18.3 million from the Duchy, mainly coming from residential and commercial property rents on the 132,000 acres of land he owns. The Prince’s income in the 2011/12 financial year was £500,000 up on the previous year.
The Prince pays income tax voluntarily, earning the Inland Revenue around £4.5 million last year.
As well as land in Cornwall, the Duchy owns land in 22 other counties, with more than 3,500 lettings, which include 1,000 commercial agreements and 700 residential lettings.
The Oval cricket ground, the Isles of Scilly and much of the foreshore around Cornwall are among the Duchy’s possessions. The Duchy also owns land as far north as Cheshire.
Although the Duke of Cornwall is entitled to the annual income of the Duchy, he is not allowed to sell its assets for personal gain, meaning that all property transactions with a value of £500,000 or more must be approved by the Treasury.
Source: The Telegraph