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Dead and absent rolling stock owners

Discussion in 'Heritage Rolling Stock' started by Dead Sheep, Jul 1, 2021.

  1. Dead Sheep

    Dead Sheep New Member

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    In recent times I have seen occasional comments about heritage railways being unable to trace or contact the owners, leaving them with a headache. If an owners dies, it cannot be assumed that they left the matter to an executor or probate to resolve. In other cases, owners have simply disappeared without leaving any details with the railway, often for many years.

    It is a particular problem if the item of rolling stock is effectively dumped on their site or an issues arises over rolling stock agreements or maintenance.

    What do heritage railways do in this situation?
     
  2. martin1656

    martin1656 Resident of Nat Pres Friend

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    I would imagine that if the owner can't be traced has died, etc, and no mention of ownership of an railway vehicle was mentioned in the will, and probate has been settled, the railway would assume ownership of that vehicle, is there any provision in law, whereby the organisation that are storing, and using said vehicle can claim ownership if the owner, or their representatives can't be traced, or does not reply to official letter posted to the last known address of the person,? especially if the railway is paying to keep that vehicle in use assuming it is, or charging rent etc.
     
  3. I. Cooper

    I. Cooper Member

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    Whilst that may be a practical approach, I suspect it would be a legally inadvisable one. Just because a possession of a deceased person has not been specifically passed to someone else does not mean it is suddenly no longer part of the deceased estate and can be 'claimed' by anyone who happens to take a fancy to it, just because it's in their way.

    I have recently ended up following the process of obtaining the legal rights to a grave plot purchased by a family member a good number of decades ago, who ultimately ended up residing in that plot as well. Now 50 years after their demise it hasn't been possible to find written evidence of the will to see if it specifically passed on the rights to the plot - which are still the legal possession of the person/estate unless it can be shown they were passed on. It has been necessary to follow the lines of the person's heirs (direct offspring also now deceased) until reaching the remaining living descendants who would also have an inheritance claim, then getting forms filled in where they renounce the claim they might have in favour of the one remaining family member, who then has to make statements of declarations with commissioners of oaths etc. to obtain the legal rights to take on possession from the estate of the deceased. I see a physical artifact belonging to a deceased person being no different to a 'legal right' belonging to a deceased person eg. the copyright held by someone continues for 70 years after they've died and will be inherited by their heirs as well, but once again there isn't a physical artifact so if it isn't explicitly stated or known about whilst distributing the estate, it will remain available for the heirs to 'claim' at a later date, it can't just be adopted by someone else who happens to take a shine to it!

    Now at a pragmatic level, if those disposing of the estate and family were not aware of a possession kept elsewhere due to lack of contact/documents, then they aren't likely to suddenly appear and claim it later. If whilst sorting the estate they don't come across an agreement that says it can be kept at X railway free of charge indefinitely, then I believe a railway could potentially claim a lein on the property towards unpaid storage/restoration/maintenance fees, with the settlement of taking possession of the property in lieu of those unpaid debts if they have not been settled within a reasonable period of time. Even if an owner hasn't died, if they've lost contact with the railway I suspect a similar process can be followed - obviously made much easier if there was originally agreed a nominal annual rent that then stops getting paid for an obvious debt to accrue. I would expect the railway would need to be able to legally demonstrate they had made reasonable attempts at making contact with the missing property owner and/or their heirs before following the correct legal steps to take on ownership themselves.

    In either case I suspect the best course of action would be to contact a suitably qualified solicitor who specialises in such areas and seek their written professional advice in knowledge of the full facts, rather than just "assuming ownership" or believing something read online.
     
  4. Miff

    Miff Well-Known Member Friend

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    I agree but would also guess that quite a lot of long-dismantled and apparently long-abandoned components, if not complete vehicles, have been ‘assumed’ into other vehicles or the scrap bins over the years. It’s not uncommon for the new owner of a long neglected loco or carriage to be frustrated in their search for the ‘missing’ parts.
     
    Wenlock likes this.

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