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16th October 2020

Lost in Cyber-Space

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The digitisation of finance is making it increasingly difficult for families and executors to locate and access assets after death. A recent survey of probate practitioners reveals the challenges created by online banking and digital security. In the worst cases, untraced assets may end up being donated to charity by the financial institution in question.

The survey found that a lack of physical bank statements or cards often made it difficult to establish what accounts a person had. Financial information is frequently now communicated by e-mail but strong passwords can mean that neither practitioners nor family members are able to log in to a deceased’s e-mail account. Biometric security is commonplace on mobile phones and tablets, creating another layer of complexity.

Promptly notifying financial institutions of a death helps avoid charges and speeds up the process of administering an estate. The Dormant Bank and Building Society Accounts Act 2008 gives financial institutions power to donate to charity assets that have not been claimed for a prolonged period. Since the act came into effect, around £600 million has been disposed of in this way.

Individuals should take care to document their finances in a way that can be understood by those they leave behind. Writing down passwords or other account information is not secure but speaking with family or taking professional advice about other options can help ensure that assets are not lost on death. Assuming that your executors will find and collect your assets with ease risks leaving those assets trapped in cyber-space, and could mean that your loved ones miss out.

For more information about any of the items raised in this article please contact Katherine Hague by clicking here.