£15 billion – This is the estimated value of unclaimed assets shown to be outstanding in recent research by The Independent. The reason these assets were unclaimed? Simply because a Will could not be located.
Communicating the importance of creating a Will is nothing new. Professionals have always promoted, discussed and advised their clients on why they should have a Will, some key events that should trigger creating or updating a Will and the impact not having one can have upon their loved ones.
Despite the many reasons why people tend to procrastinate this task, more people have been turning to online or retail-purchased Will templates to create a Will on their own. However, this do-it-yourself (DIY) approach to creating a Will often doesn’t come with the advice and necessary next steps from an experienced professional, involving how to store the Will properly or the significance of informing others of its existence and location.
The lack of communication between family members on this topic also contributes to the issue. Families can be hesitant to discuss creating a Will or discussing it after it has been made, often due to the perceived morbidity of the conversation or the fear of starting an argument. Even if a Will is made and communicated to the family, its location could have been forgotten or changed over time and its whereabouts may/could be unknown at the most critical time. This can result in family members feeling like they have not carried out their loved one’s wishes.
So, what are the rules on this?
Currently, if someone passes away without a valid Will (or it cannot be located) and they have no known next of kin, Bona Vacantia laws will apply in England and Wales. This law states that someone under these circumstances will pass their assets to the Crown upon their death. Approximately £48 million has been passed to the Crown because of this. This is a staggering amount. If there is a Will but it was unknown, lost or misplaced over time, this amount has the potential to be much lower.
Is there a solution?
Squiggle Consult, a UK-based estate planning firm, has launched an online petition to make Will registration mandatory.
“Many people don’t even know that you can or should register a Will. We believe very strongly that this information should be much more prominent, as it is likely to be the difference between a family receiving their rightful inheritance as per the wishes of the deceased.”
- Kieran Osborne, CEO and founder of Squiggle.
For about £30, individuals can register their Will online and all that would be required is the location of the Will, the date it became valid and the names of the Executors. When that individual passes away, a simple search of the Will registration database can help family members and loved ones avoid additional distress, to ensure the deceased’s wishes are carried out and provide beneficiaries with the inheritance owed to them.
Currently, Will registration is optional. However, making it mandatory to register them is an interesting solution to reducing the high value of unclaimed assets and helping families to avoid unnecessary worry and disputes. At Kings Court Trust, we will continue to follow the development of this and outcome of the petition.