Will Accessibility and Storage:
We spend a great deal of time asking people whether they have an up-to-date Will. In today’s hectic world, there are perhaps two other questions we should be asking as well. Do you know where your Will is? And, even more importantly, do your executors know where your Will is stored should the unthinkable happen? Will accessibility and storage are equally as important as the drafting. Yet so often, the ‘safest’ of places aren’t quite what they seem.
To illustrate our reasoning, Lloyds Banking Group recently announced that 9,000 wills had been left in storage and not passed on to customers. The bank is now doing its best to match up the envelopes with the relevant families.
The Wills had been kept in the bank’s ‘Safe Custody’ service. It proved, ironically, too ‘safe’ a ‘safe place,’ as no one actually knew about the wills’ existence. Almost certainly the situation won’t have been helped by the service closing to new customers in 2011.
Sadly, the error means that some executors may have used the wrong Will when administering a deceased’s estate. Subsequently, some families are having to re-examine bequests years after they thought they had been settled.
Naturally, there is concern that the error has led to estates being wrongly distributed. So, there are fears for contentious probate claims, negligence claims against executors and administrators, and issues with tax payments. All this on top of realising that the deceased’s last wishes may well not have been honoured.
Who was affected?
The bank insists that it was only in a small percentage of cases that they did not manage to trace the Will when a customer died. According to Lloyds, 90% of the Wills had been superseded by a later Will, or copies had been located elsewhere.
What should I do if I have been affected?
Those affected by the error should make a complaint to the Financial Ombudsman and a counterclaim against Lloyd’s directly. The bank is aiming to rectify the situation as best as possible and have indicated that compensation will be offered, including legal costs. They have also promised not to claw back assets given to the wrong people.
Take away’s about Will Accessibility and Storage
While making a Will can only be commended, it’s provision as a safeguard cannot end with its writing. As such, this case highlights that using a solicitor, who specialises in making and storing wills, is often better than using a high street bank. You can also register a Will with the Probate Service for a one-off fee of £20.
The Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP) advises against safety deposit boxes for Will storage. These mean that an executor cannot get access until they get probate. As this cannot be granted without a Will, it becomes a bit of a Catch 22.
If you do have a Will stored in a safety deposit box, do consider moving it somewhere accessible. Remember, no matter where your Will is kept, it needs to remain accessible and known about by your executors.
As always, thinking about your demise is never pleasant – but thinking about your Will accessibility and storage for five minutes now can save your loved ones a lot of worry and stress at an already difficult time later on.