The Prince of Wales has collected more than £1m from people in Cornwall who have died without leaving behind a will, under archaic rules relating to the Duchy.
Prince Charles received £868,000 from deceased residents or dissolved but unclaimed companies between April 2019 and the end of last year, and £201,000 from January 2020 to the end of the 2019-20 financial year in March, accounts published last week show.
The same accounts showed the Prince’s annual income from the Duchy had risen to more than £22m, although is expected to fall due to the slump in asset values caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
When residents of Cornwall die without leaving a will or having surviving relatives, the property of their estate passes to the Duke of Cornwall, Prince Charles, in line with laws that govern unclaimed assets – or “bona vacantia” – dating back to the reign of King William IV.
Throughout most of England and Wales unclaimed estates eventually become the property of the Crown. This money has historically been used to pay out honorary pensions and other incomes in return for state service, such as the Sovereign Grant paid to members of the royal family. Some of the Crown’s ownership rights have been ceded away over time, including to the Duchy of Cornwall and the Duchy of Lancaster.
Prince Charles, as Duke of Cornwall, retains some of this money in order to pass it back to any previously unidentified relatives who may later come forward to claim their inheritance. As of March the Duchy had retained £824,000.
However, all of the money generated from unclaimed estates is ultimately passed onto a benevolent endowment fund, which invests and grows the money, which is then used to pay out to charitable causes and institutions in Cornwall and the South West.
The Duke of Cornwall’s Benevolent Fund has paid out more than £850,000 to good causes over the past seven years and has amassed more than £5.5m in assets over its life.
The Government has its own endowment funds that pay out to charities, but more controversially also raises cash from the lost savings of people who may still be alive.
This is done via the Dormant Assets Scheme, which uses money lost to accounts left inactive, typically for around 15 years or more, where the institution has not been able to reunite the money with the owner.
The Government recently announced it intended to raise £150m from lost savings in new funding for charities and vulnerable people during the coronavirus crisis. However, the owners of these sums always retain the right to claim it back, even after it has been paid away to charity.