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Bank's belated discovery of stored wills could trigger estate disputes

Thursday, 31 October, 2019

It has emerged that Lloyds Bank has discovered a cache of thousands of stored wills in its ‘Safe Custody’ service. The service was closed to new customers in 2011, but earlier this year the bank discovered that the approximately 190,000 papers still stored there included about 9,000 wills. Some of the envelopes could not be matched to Lloyds' customers.

The discovery potentially creates a difficult situation for families and executors who may have administered a deceased's estate using what turned out to be the wrong will, not knowing that the right one was stored at Lloyds.

The bank says that in 90 per cent of the cases the newly discovered wills had already been superseded by a later one, or copies of them were available somewhere else. In other cases, the estates had been declared intestate but had been distributed in accordance with the testator's wishes and so no harm had been done.

However, the affair has created problems for hundreds of Lloyds' customers, typically where the estates have been distributed to the wrong beneficiaries. Those affected will be compensated, including their legal costs, says Lloyds, which has also promised that assets distributed to the wrong persons will not be clawed back.

The effect is likely to be a rash of contentious probate and negligence cases, as well as tax disputes where estate-planning measures in the 'lost' wills were not implemented. Michael Culver, chairman of Solicitors for the Elderly, recommends that the families affected make a complaint to the Financial Ombudsman and make a counter claim against Lloyds directly.

STEP's Technical Counsel, Emily Deane TEP, 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 may 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 is known to their executor(s) in the event of your death.'

Sources