Lawyers fear for inheritances locked in digital vaults

  • 88 per cent of probate lawyers believe the rise in digital banking has made it harder to find a deceased person’s financial accounts
  • Probate specialists have struggled to find all the financial accounts tied to an estate in over a quarter of cases in the last 12 months
  • This is due to a lack of physical cards (63 per cent), increased use of fingerprints and facial recognition (56 per cent) and greater number of financial services providers (47 per cent)
  • Two fifths (38 per cent) of people did not know where a loved one held all their financial accounts when dealing with their estate


New research amongst probate specialists from Direct Line Life Insurance1 reveals digital banking is making it harder than ever to identify and retrieve assets when dealing a deceased person’s estate. The majority (88 per cent) of probate lawyers believe the rise in online and digital banking has made it tougher for people to find out where their loved ones held financial accounts after they died.

Probate lawyers estimate that executors have struggled to find out where loved ones held all their financial accounts in more than a quarter of cases (28 per cent) handled in the last 12 months, due to the change in how people now manage bank accounts. Probate lawyers believe it will become even tougher for executors to access accounts in the future, with the increased lack of physical credit or debit cards, as there is no physical record linking someone to an account or financial services organisation (63 per cent).

The increased use of biometric security like fingerprints and facial recognition (56 per cent) also means it is much harder for people to access someone’s phone or tablet and see which banking apps they have downloaded, or access their emails to find correspondence (47 per cent). The greater number of financial services providers on the market is also a contributing factor (47 per cent) as people have more choice on where to bank than ever before.

Table one: Factors expected to increase difficult in accessing financial accounts 


Percentage of probate lawyers who think this will make accessing accounts harder

Lack of physical credit or debit cards


Increased use of biometric security for accessing someone’s phone or tablet


Greater number of financial services providers on the market


Difficulty accessing someone’s email accounts to find correspondence from financial services providers


Lack of discussion about finances with loved ones


More people will manage their finances digitally


People themselves forgetting where they hold money


Source: Direct Line Life Insurance 2020

Additional research from Direct Line Life Insurance2 reveals more than a fifth (20 per cent) of people don’t know where their spouse or partner’s financial accounts are held, such as their bank, savings accounts or ISA provider. Just 37 per cent of people know where their mother has accounts and 28 per cent know where their father banks and saves funds. Around a third (30 per cent) know where their adult children hold money but just 12 per cent know where their grandparents do.

This lack of knowledge about the banks, building societies and savings accounts held by loved ones is having a negative impact on executors. Some 20 million people have needed to access a loved one’s financial accounts after they have passed away. Of these, 38 per cent (7.7 million people) did not know where they held all their financial accounts, making it difficult for them to track down all the assets.

The scale of untraced assets across the country is greater that the GDP of some countries3, including Samoa, Tonga and Dominica.  However, financial institutions do work hard to help unite people with assets. Since the introduction of the Dormant Bank and Building Society Accounts Act in 2008, the banking sector has unlocked over £1.2 bn4 and, while the priority has been reunifying customers with their assets, £600 million has also been made available to good causes.

Chloe Couper, Business Manager at Direct Line Life Insurance, commented: “It’s always an incredibly difficult time when a loved one passes away, but for those dealing with the estate, that grief can be exacerbated by the stress of applying for probate. Informing financial providers is a vital part of this process in order to avoid charges, close accounts and access funds.

“The rise of digital banking means people are less likely to have printed statements and debit cards to help with this process, so it is vital that families are aware where their loved ones hold accounts to avoid any unnecessary stress and delay when applying for probate. While there are services to track bank and savings accounts, shareholdings, premium bonds and investments it can still take months for probate to be approved.    

“It is incredibly important to have hard conversations with loved ones ahead of time to ensure family members and executors know where assets are held should the worst happen.”

There is also confusion in terms of who is responsible for tracking down funds if someone passes away. Nearly two fifths (39 per cent) correctly believe this is the responsibility of the executor of the estate, however 25 per cent mistakenly think it is the responsibility of the family and nine per cent placing responsibility with the probate lawyers.   

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Notes to Editors

1 Research conducted by Pure Profile among 100 probate lawyers in the UK

2 Research conducted by Opinium among a nationally representative sample of 2,007 UK adults between 14th to 18th February 2020



For further information please contact:

Naomi Kombe

PR Manager

Direct Line Group

Tel: 01651832895

Email: [email protected]

Direct Line

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