Discovery of Old Wills in Bank Vault Means Inheritance Headache for Beneficiaries

Posted Nov 13, 2019.

A recent discovery by Lloyds Bank of hundreds of old wills that had been stored via their ‘Safe Custody’ service but never accessed or acted upon is set to give affected estate beneficiaries a headache over the coming months.

In acknowledging their error in accessing and properly acting upon the stash of old will, Lloyds Banking Group has indicated that in some cases, families of deceased individuals may realise that assets and money has been distributed incorrectly, possibly also to the wrong beneficiaries. This could result in estates that have been settled many years previously facing a review and possible untangling of any errors.

FTSE 100 listed Lloyds Banking Group is now frantically trying to reconcile around 9,000 old wills with the relevant family members and beneficiaries. Whilst in some cases this may result in an unsuspected ‘windfall’ for family members, in others it may result in a re-distribution of assets to ensure compliance with the original will. Lloyds has said that the majority of cases these old wills were superseded by newer versions or the estate was settled appropriately via the intestacy process, and that there is likely to be around a couple of hundred situations that will need to be reviewed.

Compensation for will beneficiaries

Lloyds has been trying to sort things out since July, and has said that affected parties will be fully compensated, including legal costs. They have also indicated that assets that may have been distributed incorrectly will not be recovered from any ‘incorrect’ beneficiaries. Lloyds has now made sure that all papers held under its ‘Safe Custody’ service have been digitised. A spokesperson for the banks said:

“Up until 2011, the bank offered a safe custody service where customers could store important items…In a small proportion of cases, it's become clear that we did not trace a customer's will when we were notified of their passing. 'We are investigating each case individually and where appropriate making contact with representative of these estates. 'We are deeply sorry for the distress and inconvenience this has caused and will ensure that those affected are fully compensated.”

Safe will storage

In commenting on the story, wills and inheritance industry association STEP said:

“This is a disappointing and concerning story which raises an important issue…we would advise people against storing a will in a bank safety deposit box because it will not be accessible to the executor until they get probate – and this cannot be granted without a will. 'If someone has an existing will stored in this way, we would recommend moving it elsewhere to ensure it is accessible and its whereabouts known to their executor(s) in the event of their death. 

'Two options would be storage with a solicitor (if applicable) or with the Probate Service for a fee of £20.'

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