In Sex and the City, Carrie Bradshaw asks her friends, if you love someone and then break up where does the love go? There is little scope for such idle philosophising when it comes to property. To continue with the idea of divine rights, if everything belongs to the Supreme Maker, and the king is his or her appointee on Earth, then everything on Earth belongs to him or her. And this includes whatever is owned by the king's subjects too.
Heirs and Spares
That’s what the law of the land decreed in Great Britain, till at some point it was decided that when someone dies without a will or without heir in England and Wales, their assets should go to the Treasury. By some legislation or not, however, this did not and still does not apply to the duchies of Lancaster or Cornwall, huge estates, each with a sizeable population. In case of such deaths in these two places, the assets pass to the reigning monarch --- in this case King Charles III --- and the Duke of Cornwall or Prince William, respectively. They are not required to pay tax, though during his time as Duke of Cornwall, Charles voluntarily paid up.
The spending pattern of the duchies is not transparent. A portion is supposed to go to charity, though exact figures are not known. According to a Financial Times report from 2022, the bulk of the duchy of Cornwall’s income comes from its commercial property portfolio and, in 2021-22, “it generated a £23mn surplus… of which £21mn was paid to Charles” who has been entitled to its full income since he was 21. In his first payout since becoming king, Charles reportedly got £26m from the duchy of Lancaster. Now, according to an investigation by The Guardian, millions of pounds from bona vacantia or ownerless properties --- the life’s earnings of nursery managers and former miners --- have been collected by the duchy of Lancaster and used to “upgrade a commercial property empire”. Post the expose and the outrage, the king’s estate has admitted to using bona vacantia funds to restore public and historic properties. It has also announced its decision to transfer more than £100 million into ethical investment funds. One would think God’s representatives were sent to Earth with as much conscience as material savvy!