If you’re appointed as executor in someone’s will, you’re responsible for sorting out their affairs after they’ve passed away.
This will involve notifying organisations such as banks, broadband and energy companies of the death, which you’d hope would be a straightforward process.
However, it often isn’t. Earlier this year, when we asked more than 1,600 executors about their experience closing down a financial account, and two in five said that they were dissatisfied with bank staff’s skill and knowledge during the process, while one in six said the process lasted more than three months.
Here, Which? explores the difficulties of end-of-life administration and how you can make the process easier for yourself and your loved ones.
‘Plusnet was demanding money’
After his father-in-law passed away in early February, John Smith (not his real name) did what many people find themselves doing following a bereavement. He rang up his father-in-law’s bank, utility company, insurance provider, and TV and broadband providers to close the accounts.
Or so he thought. But two months later, Plusnet told him his father-in-law’s broadband account was £76 in arrears.
‘It hadn’t closed the account down properly. I don’t think they even knew he was dead,’ said John. ‘They were still writing emails to him demanding money.’
Understandably, the experience was particularly distressing for John’s wife as she was still receiving correspondence to her father months after his death.
Plusnet has since apologised to John and refunded the payments. Plusnet told us: ‘We’re really sorry to hear about Mr Smith’s loss and we apologise for causing additional upset during a difficult time. Unfortunately, we didn’t close his father-in-law’s account correctly, which meant Mr Smith didn’t receive the service our customers expect.’
However, John’s experience with Plusnet is far from an isolated case.
- Find out more: best and worst broadband companies
Botched bereavement processes
Scroll through the community help pages of major broadband, energy and water companies and you’ll soon find complaints from bereaved customers saying that they were treated insensitively while registering a death.
You’ll also see posts from customers saying they don’t know how to register a death or that they have tried, only to be passed around the organisation because staff on the phone don’t know how to close the account.
It’s not hard to see why this happens. Some companies don’t have a dedicated bereavement department. Others do, but don’t display a direct contact number or email address for the bereavement team. And some make it difficult for customers to find all the information they need online. John told us that part of what made Plusnet’s bereavement process so cumbersome was because a lot of relevant information was hidden behind a menu on the website.
What executors need to close an account
Always check to see if the company has a dedicated email or phone number for their bereavement team. This increases the chance that you’ll speak to a trained member of staff who will know how to register the death.
To close the account, different companies will request different information. Check on their website to see what they need from you. They will probably ask for some or all of the details listed below:
- Name and address of the deceased
- Date of birth and death
- Your name, address and contact details
- Account numbers
- Death certificate.
Find out more: probate explained
How to make registering a death easier
Even assuming all goes to plan, going through the same process again and again with different companies can take its toll. As one customer on a mobile network’s community pages put it: ‘The last thing I want to be doing right now is chasing providers.’
There are some services you can use to streamline the process:
Tell Us Once
The government’s Tell Us Once service lets you notify government departments of the death. Use this to contact HM Revenue and Customs, the Department for Work and Pensions, the Passport Office, the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency and the local council. You’ll need the details of the person who died to hand before you start.
The Death Notification Service
The Death Notification Service lets you notify banks, building societies and other financial companies of the death for free by completing an online form. Only some financial institutions are signed up to it, including but not limited to Barclays, First Direct, HSBC, Nationwide, NatWest and Santander.
Life Ledger and Settld
A number of companies have emerged recently that allow you to notify the account providers of the deceased in one go, including Life Ledger and Settld. They’re both free to use. Once you’ve uploaded all the necessary information, they will notify the organisations for you.
- Find out more: how to find a probate solicitor
What you can do now to help your executors
It’s not your fault if, after you’ve died, a company makes an error closing your account. But there are some things you can do to make the process go more smoothly for your executors.
According to Exizent’s 2021 Bereavement Index, 37% of accounts are only discovered during probate. If your affairs aren’t in order when you die, probate could take a lot longer for your executors to sort out.
To get things in order, consider writing down a list of your accounts and keeping an up-to-date will.
- Which? Wills offers a will-writing service to help guide you through the process.
Get in touch with Which?
If you’ve experienced poor customer service while trying to close down a deceased person’s account, we want to hear from you. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.