Jersey land law has, since feudal times, been based on a system of tenure. A freeholder is not an absolute owner but a 'tenant in fee simple' holding from his Seigneur as lord of the land in question.
Whenever a 'tenancy in fee simple' comes to an end, for whatever reason, the land in question may become subject to escheat in which case the Seigneur becomes entitled to take possession of it. The Seigneurial Rights (Abolition) (Jersey) Law 1966 provides that from that year these Seigneurial rights have vested in the Crown.
Land, and any buildings thereon, in Jersey will escheat to the Crown if:
- a person being a freeholder dies intestate (without leaving a will) and with no legal heir as defined by the Wills and Successions (Jersey) Law 1993
- a company being a freeholder is dissolved without first disposing of its interest
The term escheat is now often applied to moveable property but this is not strictly correct. In these notes moveable property is dealt with as bona vacantia.
The term bona vacantia literally means vacant goods and is the legal name for all ownerless property, which is claimed by the Crown. The Crown’s claim to bona vacantia arises in Jersey by virtue of the Royal Prerogative, ie at common law.
Moveable property, including interests in land and buildings as something other than freeholder, will become bona vacantia if:
- the owner dies intestate (without leaving a will) and with no legal heir as defined by the Wills and Successions (Jersey) Law 1993
- the owner, being a company or other legal entity, is dissolved without first disposing of its interest
HM Receiver General in Jersey deals with escheat and bona vacantia where the property in question is situated in Jersey.
HM Receiver General may also claim on behalf of the Crown in Jersey bona vacantia, wherever situated, that belonged to a deceased Jersey person or a dissolved Jersey registered company.
However, in these 2 cases it may be that the relevant authorities in the jurisdiction in which the property is located will have a better claim upon it.
Please note: this information is provided for guidance only. Interested parties are advised to rely upon their own legal advice.