Two thirds of adults with online pensions, investments, savings and bank accounts have failed to inform next of kin about their accounts.
That money could easily go missing unless family members know it actually exists and where it can be found.
The research from Lloyds Bank, produced exclusively for the Daily Express, is a wake-up call for millions who are failing to take enough care to document their financial affairs.
As we spend more of our lives online, we all need to prepare for what happens to our digital legacy when we finally die.
LOST IN THE NET
People take far greater care with their paper-based finances than their online accounts.
Many also keep family members out of the loop, with almost four out of 10 failing to talk to loved ones about their personal and financial affairs should they die, Lloyds’ research shows.
Some are more focused on trivial concerns, such as wondering what will happen to their Facebook page in the event of their death.
Lloyds’ director of bereavement, Paul Sheehan, says people need to take more care of their online finances as we shift away from paper: “Digital makes managing your finances easier, but it can make things more difficult for next of kin taking on your financial affairs when you die, as so many are financially unprepared for death.”
He says the first step is to talk to family and friends about your financial position: “This is especially true for online accounts, which would be harder to locate if your loved ones are not aware of them.”
Sheehan suggests preparing a written list of all your online and offline accounts and keeping it in a safe place where others can find it later: “This will provide important information for your family and friends and can help ease stress during what will be a tough time.”
Your digital wealth may include much more than just your financial accounts.
“Check the terms and conditions on any music, books and films you have purchased digitally to see if these can also be passed onto friends and family,” he adds.
You also need to produce details of any debts that will have to be paid out of your estate when you die, so that you do not bequeath a nasty shock for your loved ones.
Another worry for grieving families is meeting immediate expenses and debts after death, but Sheehan says banks and other financial services companies should be able to help with this.
For example, insurers offering over-50s life cover or funeral plans should quickly release funds to grieving families.
He says banks should be supportive in an emergency: “They may help loved ones gain access to the deceased’s credit balance to fund funeral expenses and other costs, such as inheritance tax, probate fees and confirmation fees, before all the legal paperwork is sorted.”
WAY TO A WILL
Writing down your wishes on paper makes them legally blinding, but too many Britons still fail to make a will, including almost eight out of 10 under-45s.
Sheehan urges everyone to write or update their will to avoid legal complications for loved ones: “You can draw up a will yourself, but it makes sense to use a will-writing service or solicitor instead.”
James Antoniou, head of wills at Co-op, says January is peak time for people to amend and update their wills: “Christmas brings people together, but it can also lead to conflicts and family fallouts while for others New Year is a trigger to get their finances in order.
“As a result we tend to see a peak in will amendments coming through in January.”