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General Background

Page updated 3 Mar 2014

What is “bona vacantia”?

“Bona vacantia” means vacant goods and is the legal name given to ownerless property which passes to the Crown.

Historically bona vacantia consisted of certain categories of property which the common law set aside for the Crown. The majority of bona vacantia property now passes to the Crown by way of statute rather than the common law.

Under section 75 of the Public Finance Act 1989, the Minister of Finance has the power to deal with all bona vacantia property, including the sale or transfer of that property, on behalf of the Crown. This power has been delegated to the Secretary to the Treasury.

The difference between ownerless property and unclaimed or abandoned property

Bona vacantia consists of property which has no owner other than the Crown. It does not include unclaimed property or abandoned property where the owner is unknown or cannot be located.

The Public Trust is empowered by statute to act as manager of such unclaimed property. If you have an inquiry about unclaimed property you should contact the Public Trust on 0800 371 471 or email info@publictrust.co.nz.

Unclaimed money

Where the unclaimed property in question is money, the entity responsible for managing the money varies depending on the source of the funds. Further information on unclaimed money can be found at: http://www.treasury.govt.nz/abouttreasury/services/unclaimedmoney.

Categories of bona vacantia

The Treasury manages four categories of bona vacantia property.

Property of companies removed from the Companies Register

The Companies Act 1993 states that property, which immediately before the removal of a company from the New Zealand Companies Register had not been distributed or disclaimed, vests in the Crown with effect from the removal of the company from the Register. The Companies Act 1933 and Companies Act 1955 (predecessors to the current Act) included similar provisions.

Further information regarding how the Treasury deals with property of companies that have been removed from the Companies Register can be found here.

Property of people dying without a will

Money or property vests in the Crown as bona vacantia under section 77(8) of the Administration Act 1969 where a person dies without a will and there are no relatives or persons who take an interest in the estate within the parameters of section 77.

More information on transferring money to the Crown in accordance with section 77 or making a claim for money previously transferred to the Crown in this way can be obtained by contacting the Treasury Legal Team at legal@treasury.govt.nz.

Failed trusts

In certain, very rare, circumstances the property of a failed trust can pass to the Crown as bona vacantia. If you believe that property of a failed trust may have passed to the Crown as bona vacantia please contact the Treasury Legal Team at legal@treasury.govt.nz.

Property of unincorporated societies

Property of an unincorporated society (such as a sports club) is usually held jointly by the members of the society. However, if an unincorporated society has no members the property of that society may pass to the Crown as bona vacantia. If you believe that property of an unincorporated society may have passed to the Crown as bona vacantia, please contact the Treasury legal team at legal@treasury.govt.nz.

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