Ensuring Client’s Will Is Accessible
In October 2019, Lloyd’s Banking Group discovered roughly 9,000 wills of deceased customers. Stored away as part of the ‘safe custody’ service that had been closed in 2011, the undistributed wills have caused an inheritance mess for hundreds of bereaved families.
Although the group has stated that for most cases, there will have been no adverse consequences due to the blunder, it is estimated that there are hundreds of cases whereby the customer’s estates have been incorrectly distributed.
It raises the question of how best to advise clients to store their wills, and even more importantly, that their executors know where the will can be found.
Estates being incorrectly distributed is not the only issue that may come from an incorrect will being used. Families can be torn apart by what appears in a will, especially when one family member is favoured over another.
Some people, when it comes to writing a will, use the opportunity to enforce their feelings about a particular person, with some updating their will every time there is a family conflict and even leaving letters explaining why they have disinherited a relative.
In one case, a mother changed her will on an almost monthly basis depending on which of her three sons had shown her the most attention or bought the best gift at Christmas or birthdays. She went to great lengths to show the recipients what they would receive and even had coloured stickers on items around the home depending on who would receive it when she passed on. This had been a tradition since the children were teenagers, becoming a running joke each Christmas and all three agreeing that no matter what the final outcome was, anything left would be split equally.
In these cases, if the conflict has been resolved or a family member reunited, if the updated will is never found, the family member in question can be left resentful and relentless. It could also lead to people contesting a will that they rightly knew was wrong, causing yet more resentment within families as well as the cost of litigation.
There is also the issue of inheritance tax and the possible sale of family heirlooms that were meant as a loving token to be left by the deceased.
The Lloyd’s Banking Group story can be used as a cautionary tale for clients that are reluctant to pay the fees for a correctly executed will by a solicitor and for the firm to store the will. However, if the cost is an issue to a client, especially one who likes to regularly update the document based on who is currently in favour, the Probate Service offer a service whereby a will can be registered for a one-off fee of £20.
It is also worth advising clients that safety deposit boxes should not be used, as until the executors have been granted probate, they cannot open the box, but without the will, probate cannot be granted.