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13 November 2014 | Comment | Article by Ceri Webster

Tracing lost assets on death

Ceri provides some useful information for personal representatives and family members on how to locate any unknown or lost assets following a person’s death.

Following a death, a family member, friend or a professional will have the job of dealing with a person’s estate. They will obtain information in respect of any assets and liabilities held. The assets will then be gathered and liabilities paid off.

Many people do plan for the inevitable, writing wills, appointing executors, but very few provide lists of all their assets and liabilities.

When dealing with an estate, the personal representatives may have to undertake detective work in order to track down the assets that comprise the estate.

In some cases this can be difficult. Some people may have lost or misplaced details of their assets in their lifetime. People may no longer receive mail from insurance policies held and the original policy may have been lost. People move house without updating their address, change jobs and lose track of pension schemes, accounts and investments when they are widowed, married or divorced. Particularly in a digital age where documentation may be held online such as with bank accounts, people may not realise these exist and could be lost.

This then makes the role of personal representative very difficult, especially if the deceased did not keep an up to date record of all their assets and liabilities.

The unclaimed asset register notes that the unclaimed financial assets in the UK are approximately £15-£20 billion, with £400 million in unpaid life assurance and pension schemes, £400 million in unclaimed bank and building societies, £31 million in unclaimed premium bond prizes and £1 billion in National Savings and Investments products (excluding premium bonds).

There is so much lost money that the government decided it could be put to good use and, in 2009, the Dormant Bank and Building Society Accounts Act 2008 became law. This Act applies to most accounts that have seen no action for at least 15 years. Banks and building societies are given the option to transfer money from dormant accounts to a charity or to a central reclaim fund for use. Although this money is being used it does not alter anyone’s right to reclaim lost money.

There are free services available to help track missing assets. The British Bankers’ Association, the Building Societies Association and National Savings and Investments have come together to provide mylostaccount.org.uk where you can initiate a search by visiting this website and completing one application form. This website covers 36 banks that take retail deposits in the UK, all building societies, all NS&I products as well as the old Post Office Savings Bank accounts. Since the website’s launch it has reunited an estimated 315,000 people with forgotten funds worth up to £645 million!

You can also search for pension schemes via The Pension Tracing Service which holds details of over 200,000 pension schemes. If a close relative has died without taking their pension, it may be possible to apply for that pension cash too.

All the searches are UK based but the searches are only as successful as the information provided. These websites will not provide instant results and the banks and building societies will endeavour to respond within three months and National Savings and Investments will endeavour to respond within one month.

Experian also provide a single search service, the Unclaimed Assets Register, which helps consumers, solicitors and executors trace lost assets. This service charges a fixed fee of £25.00 for each search.

Author bio

Ceri Webster

Senior Associate

Ceri Webster, a senior associate in our trusts and estates administration department, acts in estate administration cases on behalf of high street banks.

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