Bereaved families facing delays in settling loved one's finances

Bereaved families settling their loved ones’ finances are facing severe delays and costly admin errors during the pandemic, a report has claimed, saying some banks are losing death certificates and failing to close accounts of people who have passed away.

The pandemic has left many bereaved people with more delays in sorting their loved ones' finances.

Which? surveyed 1,600 members about their experience of acting as an executor and found that many shared stories of delays, administrative errors and poor knowledge when dealing with banks - making an already stressful task even more difficult.

One in six people said they laboured over the process of closing their loved one’s accounts for more than three months before the first lockdown, but that number rose to four in 10 for those who began probate before March 2020 and carried on afterwards.

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Only three per cent of people said it was very difficult to contact the provider before the first lockdown, but the figure shot up to one in six for those who settled their loved one’s finances during and after lockdown.

The survey also exposed a catalogue of mistakes by banks when dealing with the bereaved, with one in 10 people dissatisfied with the skill and knowledge demonstrated by bank staff during the process after the lockdown in March 2020.Dozens of executors said their bank lost the death certificate after they first registered the death.

One bereaved daughter had to fork out £4,000 in funeral fees herself after HSBC lost her late father’s death certificate. The bank’s bereavement team also failed to send her important forms to close her father’s stocks and shares Isa. She was offered compensation, flowers and a backdated payment of investment, including the interest lost.

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Another woman, Jean Heron received an upsetting letter from HSBC addressed to her husband. Despite Jean having already notified the bank that her husband had passed away several months earlier, HSBC gave him a routine update about his stocks and shares Isa. When Jean complained, the bank said it was a mistake and that its records had now been updated. Then, several weeks later, her husband received a new credit card.

Ms Heron said: “If this wasn’t so sad I could have laughed.”

HSBC said the mistake was down to ‘human error’, and has since apologised to Jean and offered compensation.

Jenny Ross, Which? Money editor, said: “Our research has exposed unacceptable mistakes by banks cropping up again and again during the probate process, leaving bereaved customers even more distressed and potentially out of pocket because of avoidable errors and delays.

“Banks must ensure they treat executors with compassion by communicating sensitively and making sure their processes are as efficient as possible.”

HSBC said: “We sincerely apologise that in these cases we have fallen short of the high standards we set ourselves and have taken steps to help ensure the experience with us going forward is a better one. Customers can now report a bereavement to us via our website and submit required documentation electronically, and we have recruited at pace to bolster our dedicated bereavement team. We are working hard to make sure that our customers have the support they need.”

The providers with the lowest levels of overall satisfaction among executors were Barclays and HSBC. Meanwhile, the providers with the most satisfied customers during the probate process were Post Office Money, Nationwide and Santander.

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