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Santander Penalty on Deceased Customer Accounts Should Serve as a Warning to all

View profile for Helen Newson
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Santander hit the headlines yesterday (19th December) after being fined by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) for failing to handle accounts of its deceased customers' adequately.

The FCA penalised the bank after it found it has been failing to identify accounts belonging to those customers who have deceased and follow up correspondence to ensure accounts were closed and money was transferred to the people entitled to it. 

Probate solicitors have been aware for some time that many of the high street banks have reduced their requirements for the families of deceased customers to produce a grant of probate, or representation, in order to close the accounts and receive the money. 

Surprisingly, it’s not uncommon for sums of up to £50,000 to be released without a grant.

While many would welcome what they see as reduced ‘red tape’, unfortunately it’s come at a price.

A grant of probate (or letters of administration if there is no will) is an official document to prove the people named on it are the correct people to be handling the administration of an estate. It is issued by the Probate Registry after they have checked the circumstances, viewed the content of a will and carried out other checks and balances. 

We have come across instances where banks have released money to people who are not entitled to it without asking to see a copy of a will or making sure otherwise that they are dealing with the correct people.

All too often, someone may approach a bank with a death certificate and sign a form to say they are responsible for the funds, without appreciating they are not the appropriate person to be signing. This lax approach may also open to the forms being signed fraudulently. 

It’s a concern to the profession that the recently announced increase in Probate Registry fees may encourage people to plan their assets in a misguided attempt to avoid them – leaving many exposed to the dangers of Probate Avoidance Trusts. 

What should you do if you are dealing with the estate of a loved one? 

You must seek professional advice in the first instance. It may be that if the estate is straightforward, you can handle certain aspects of it personally. An experienced solicitor can explain the process to you at what is often a very difficult and emotional time. 

If you have a question, call our friendly private client team who will support you and your family on 01522 512123. Alternatively, email Helen Newson on helen.newson@andrew-solicitors.co.uk.

 

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