Adverse Possession (commonly known as squatters rights) can be gained by a person in possession of land for a period of 10 (or in some cases 12) years. The general rule is that after 10 years in possession of the land, the squatter may apply to the Land Registry who will decide if the squatter is entitled to the property. Should the Land Registry decide in the squatter’s favour, they can be entered on the register as the owner of the land.
Adverse possession becomes more complicated in cases where a previous landowner has died. Upon a person’s death, all of their property passes to their estate. This can create a type of trust. The estate is then distributed to any beneficiaries who may be entitled to it under the laws of inheritance. If no beneficiaries can be found, then the property passes to the Crown.
An application for adverse possession will be unsuccessful if the land in question has been held in a trust for any time, 10 years prior to the application. This includes land which has been held in the estate of a deceased landowner. Furthermore, if the deceased landowner was not aware that they owned the land, the land will still be held in their estate and again, adverse possession will not be successful.
Upon the death of a person if no beneficiaries to their estate can be found then any property in their estate will be ‘Bona Vacantia’, or ownerless assets. If this is the case any property will pass to the Crown. If the property does fall to the Crown, any adverse possession needs to be over a period of 30 years, instead of the usual 10 years