Lawyers struggling to access inheritance locked in digital accounts

New research from Direct Line Life Insurance reveals digital banking is making it harder than ever to find and recover assets when dealing a deceased’s estate.

Digital Accounts Inheritance

How is digital banking affecting executors of wills?

A new study by Direct Line Life Insurance has found that many probate lawyers say the increased use of digital banking is making it more difficult to access the assets in a deceased’s estate once they die.

According to the research:

  • 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 28 per cent of cases in the last 12 months
  • a lack of physical cards (62 per cent) and an increased use of fingerprints and facial recognition (56 per cent) were largely to blame for the increased difficulty of estate administration

As well as a lack of physical statements or cards and an increased use of biometric security to access a phone or table, the greater number of financial service providers available was also making accessing accounts harder (47 per cent), according to the research. Other factors included difficulty accessing the deceased’s email, a lack of discussion with family prior to death, people managing finances online and people simply forgetting where they hold assets.


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


Why you should always discuss finances before death

Meanwhile, more than a fifth of people (38 per cent) said they did not know where their spouse or partner’s financial assets were held and almost two thirds (66 per cent) did not know where their parents held money.

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.”

See also

How to write a will

What are the responsibilities of an executor?

Where should I store my will?

At what age should you make a will?

Find out more

Lawyers fear for inheritances locked in digital vaults (Direct Line)

Image: Getty Images

Publication date: 24 September 2020

Any opinion expressed in this article is that of the author and the author alone, and does not necessarily represent that of The Gazette.