Estate management is a time-consuming business, but the digitisation of death will accelerate in the coming years, claims Tremayne Carew Pole, founder of Law Society sponsored partner, Life Ledger. He looks at how the process is changing in the private as well as the public sector
As many solicitors know all too well, one of the more protracted elements of administering an estate is the time spent notifying and dealing with companies that the deceased had accounts with – especially those where they might hold assets. The process is laborious. At present, each organisation has to be contacted individually. They all have different information requirements, processes and burdens of proof, and someone (either the next of kin or a designated legal representative) has to spend hours on hold, entering the same data into the same forms over and over again, or – as is far too common in an otherwise digital 21st century – corresponding by post and waiting weeks for a reply that will inevitably need a reply in return.
To many, the words “public sector” and “innovation” are not natural bedfellows. However, in the world of death, the public sector is streets ahead of the private sector. The Department of Work and Pensions’ innovative Tell Us Once service notifies the nooks and crannies of the State – from council tax and pension schemes to the Passport Office and the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency – of an individual’s death.
2018 saw the launch of the UK Finance initiative, Death Notification Service which informs 21 financial institutions of deaths. However, this service has been slow to pick up traction and is often a secondary service to the banks’ own bereavement processes.
Impact of the pandemic
As has been the case in many sectors, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has been a catalyst for change, accelerating a move away from the personal to the efficiently remote. However, change was coming prior to the arrival of the virus in early spring 2020. The Conservative MP Andrew Mitchell’s private member’s bill, the Registers of Births and Deaths Bill 2019-20 passed its first reading in February 2020 and has since reached the committee stage. The Bill sets out to allow the electronic registration of births and deaths, rendering visits to register offices unnecessary. The inevitable output of this will be digital certifications of deaths or births, which can be used for identification purposes.
The government’s response to the storm of COVID-19 was to enact emergency legislation that would “enable documents that currently have to be physically presented in connection with death registration to be transmitted electronically or by other means”, again preparing the way for deaths to be dealt with digitally.
Until recently, the issue of Crown copyright has been a key sticking point preventing the widespread adoption of distributing photographed or scanned certificates electronically. Legislation prohibits copies of death certificates being used as proof of death, or certified by solicitors. In addition, only official certified copies issued from register offices can be used as proof of death (although, in reality, this has not always been adhered to). The introduction of a digital certificate should remove the need for this outdated system of control.
Looking ahead in the private sector
Administering a death in the 2020s is going to be very different from what’s gone before, transforming one of the last great analogue administrative processes – and about time, too.
Recently, we launched Life Ledger, a private sector ‘Tell Us Once’, which notifies companies across multiple sectors – from banks or pension funds to utility or insurance providers – of the death of an individual.
The service aims to reduce the time spent dealing with the early stages of probate and make it simpler to communicate with the companies that need to be notified:
- the deceased’s data is cross-referenced with the government register
- household accounts can be switched to surviving partners or executors
- individual users are biometrically identified to meet banks’ ‘know your customer’ (KYC) processes.
A professional platform allows legal representatives to upload powers of attorney and/or letters of engagement. Account balances can be returned to the executors, and a secure messaging channel leads to swifter responses.
For those with clients considering their own mortality, our ‘Register a Life’ service can support estate planning, alongside using a solicitor to make a will. Account information is securely stored until the inevitable happens, at which point notifications can be sent without the need for family members to identify all the accounts for themselves.
Security – what to look for
Clients may have concerns about sharing information with a third-party platform. Always consider the following.
Look for platforms that adhere to Advanced Encryption Standard (AES). We recommend using at least 256-bit encryption, as well as having achieved ISO27001 certifications (ours is in progress).
Data privacy is key, so make sure that only the minimum information required to facilitate any request will be released to the companies, and that all data is deleted on request.
This piece is adapted from an article first published by Life Ledger. Life Ledger are a sponsored partner of the Law Society.