Writing a will: bank error 'means estates were wrongly distributed'

Writing a will isn’t always enough if you want to have a say over where your assets go after death, as a recent blunder by Lloyds proved.

It’s a simple fact that if you want to ensure your assets are divided up to your wishes once you die, then writing a will is essential. That way you can dictate precisely where your money and possessions go, rather than relying on the intestacy rules to kick in and divy up your estate.

We are also heading into one of the most popular times of the year for having a will written, thanks to Will Aid. Each November a host of solicitors waive their usual fees for writing a will, instead asking that a donation is made to the Will Aid charity.

It’s a very budget-friendly way of getting prepared for what happens after you die.

The trouble is that, as a new controversy involving Lloyds Bank has demonstrated, having a will written is not enough.

More ways to make a cheap or even free will

Put it somewhere safe

A report in the Financial Times this week suggests that Lloyds Bank has discovered around 9,000 wills of customers who have now passed away, which had been kept locked up as part of a “safe custody” service offered by the bank until 2011.

Thankfully, the bank reckons that in the majority of cases, this didn’t actually affect the estate in question. 

That may be because another copy of the will was stored somewhere else, and so could be accessed after the person died. Alternatively, it might be because a more recent will had been written, which superceded the one in Lloyds’ possession.

However, while that was the case for most of these customers, it is believed that hundreds of estates were incorrectly distributed, essentially because these wills had been locked away somewhere safe and Lloyds hadn’t flagged them up when the customer died.

Lloyds has apologised and said that is investigating each individual case.

What’s more, the bank said it will “ensure that those affected are fully compensated”.

Just to add to Lloyds' worries, it has also reportedly discovered 190,000 envelopes of “valuable papers” which it cannot match with customers, some of which also contain wills.

It’s obviously welcome that the bank is attempting to put things right, but make no mistake, it is frankly astonishing that so many estates may have been incorrectly divided ‒ with loved ones going through all sorts of upset and turmoil ‒ through this sort of oversight from the nation’s biggest bank.

Putting your affairs in order: wills, power of attorney and paperwork explained


Whatever happened to the safe deposit box?

There was a time when people who had something that they wanted to keep safe ‒ jewellery perhaps, or even a will ‒ would head down to their local bank and pay for a safe deposit box.

Where is safer for your precious items than a bank vault, right?

However, having to keep proper records of what you’ve got, and where, all became a bit too much like hard work for some of our banking friends.

And let’s be honest, there weren’t huge profits to be had in running them, so most banks started to pull back from offering them.

That has started to change though, with Metro Bank making a selling point of the fact that it will have one in each branch, while other banks have dipped their toes back into providing them, as we explained in our guide to safe deposit boxes.

Nonetheless, this situation with Lloyds will understandably mean that people may be more wary about making use of any such service offered by a bank.

Personally, I would stick to only using firms that are members of the Safety Deposit Association, which has put in place a decent framework to ensure that operators meet certain standards and don’t repeat the mistakes of the big banks.

Why you should get your will registered

Obviously, getting a will written remains an incredibly important thing for all of us to do.

But this Lloyds debacle is also a clear reminder of why you should also get your will registered.

This means that not only are your loved ones clear about the existence of a will should you pass away, there will also be information on where it is kept.

That removes the need for them to have to rummage through your files to try to establish whether you’d even had one written in the first place.

Certainty, the National Will Register, is the service endorsed by the Law Society, and has more than seven million wills registered on its books. It only costs £30, and it’s a very quick process, taking just a few minutes.

If you’re going to take the trouble to have a will written, it’s worth that tiny bit of extra effort to ensure that it can be located after you die.

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