THIS may come as a shock, but wills are public documents – and fraudsters are making easy money by plundering them for passwords and PIN numbers.
More and more people include online banking and PayPal passwords in their last will and testament in a bid to help the executors of their estate.
But crafty scammers know they can get a copy of anyone’s – apart from royalty – for just £6 from the Probate Office.
Vicky Sladdin, of Atteys Solicitors, said: “People think they are helping the executors of their estates by giving details of passwords and PIN numbers in their wills.
“These however, become documents of public record when they go to probate, which means fraudsters can read and exploit what should be confidential information.”
But leaving too little information can cause massive problems too. If people fail to leave a note of their password or PIN it can take weeks or months for executors to gain access, Vicky added.
A divorced man who died suddenly, all of whose standing orders and direct debits continued to be paid until solicitors tracked down his online banking details from his former employers. They then had the job of clawing the overpayments back.
A woman whose solicitors spent nine months trying to gain access to her PayPal account after she left no record of the password.
Vicky added: “If someone has money in a PayPal or other online account and the passwords are ‘in their head’ and nowhere else this creates real difficulties when it comes to accessing this part of their estate.
“We’d suggest people think about all the places they may have money and leave details about them in a sealed envelope, with their will, away from prying eyes.”
When Facebook learns of a death it locks that person’s account and puts it into a memorialised state which bars access even to relatives.
Company policy states it will provide the estate of the deceased with a download of the account data ‘if prior consent is obtained from or decreed by the deceased or mandated by law’.
Now campaigners are fighting to give relatives and friends the authority to manage social networking accounts belonging to their deceased loved ones.
If the issue becomes law it could treat Facebook, Twitter and email accounts as digital assets that could be closed or continued by an appointed representative.