We have all heard that we should go ‘paperless’ to save the environment, and to some extent this is very sound advice as it saves countless trees every year. However, in some instances it is beneficial to still receive paper ‘hard copies’ of documents, as this article will explore.
With our advancing technology, it is so easy to have everything that you need at your fingertips. With a mobile phone, you can check your bank balance, transfer funds to another bank account, even pay for something using your phone. You can also log in to all your personal accounts and check your energy bills, and you can complete and submit application forms, all from the comfort of wherever you are at that time.
The downside of this, for probate matters in particular, is that it is not as easy for a deceased’s family members to locate all assets and/or debts that a person may have had if there is no paper trail. If you have paper documents, it is possible for your executors or personal representatives to go through your belongings and identify your energy suppliers, your internet provider, your council tax bill, any insurance policies, and your bank account information. They would be able to take this information, with a death certificate, to the bank/utility company etc and stop your accounts from the date of your death.
With online accounts, unless you tell your executors that they exist, it will be difficult for them to distribute your estate in accordance with your wishes. You may have invested in shares decades ago and have never mentioned it to anyone; these could be worth a considerable sum of money now, but no one knows that they are there. You may have been keeping a ‘rainy-day’ fund in a separate account that no one else knows about, and so on.
This poses problems for executors after you die. A solicitor can be instructed to obtain the grant of probate only, in which case the solicitor will ask your executor for a list of all assets and debts that you had, and it is up to your executor to make sure that they have all of the information. If they are not made aware of an asset or debt, this can cause a problem when it eventually comes to light.
Alternatively, a solicitor can be instructed to obtain the grant of probate and thereafter administer the estate, which entails the solicitor contacting anyone that you may have had an account with, starting with information provided by your executors.
Of course, the implications of an unknown asset can be huge in terms of the amount of tax to be paid on the estate, and the amount that the beneficiaries receive.
Stephensons can alleviate this issue, as we can offer an asset search which gives the executors complete peace of mind that all accounts and assets are found. The search covers the whole of the UK, and includes accounts that may be inactive, as well as assets that are held in joint names.
We recommend that executors utilise this search, to protect them from any future claims, however to assist your executors when you pass away, you should perhaps consider keeping the most recent statements and bills from your accounts in a safe place for ease of access when you are gone.