At a conservative estimate, there is around £15 billion of assets left in the estates of deceased people which remains unclaimed. There may be a number of reasons for this and why it has not been possible for money to be paid to those entitled under a Will. Amongst the reasons can be the death of a beneficiary, lost paperwork, or a beneficiary simply disappearing and not being able to be traced.

Money may also be owed to the estate by large financial institutions that have long been forgotten. They often lose contact with customers who forget to inform them of a change of name or address. The customer may have lost paperwork and forgotten about investments made many years ago. There can often be considerable sums due to an estate from pension funds, banks or building societies.

The British Bankers Association, Building Societies Association and National Savings and Investments have jointly made available a website named ‘my lost account‘ for tracing old accounts and forgotten investments. The service is free of charge and available to executors. A reply is promised within three months.

The Department for Work and Pensions operate a pension tracing service. They have access to a vast number of pension schemes and will help an executor trace pension entitlements that may have been long forgotten. Details are held of company and personal pension schemes.

A large number of premium bond prizes go unclaimed, and if the deceased held premium bonds, it is well worth checking. There is no time limit for claiming the prize, and an online check can be made.

Tracing shares and unpaid dividends can seem a bit daunting but need not be difficult. There are three main share registrars who will hold information on shares issued in a particular company and who also have information on unclaimed dividends even in companies no longer in existence.

Very often, the work and difficulty in tracing a beneficiary has been insurmountable, and possibly there has been nobody to bother. When an executor is appointed in a will, they have a legal duty collect all the deceased’s assets and to distribute them in accordance with the will. In some cases, however, there will not be funds available for an extensive search, and the executor may not consider it possible to appoint a tracing agency to trace a beneficiary. This can be hugely expensive with no assurance of success.

The Unclaimed Assets Register has been set up to assist executors and others in locating unclaimed monies. It is a huge database with more than 5 million records of unclaimed assets. Carrying out a search is a simple and inexpensive procedure, which should always be carried out by executors when there is any suspicion that there could be unclaimed assets of the testator. All that is required is to complete a straightforward application form with address history, full name and date of birth and this will be cross referenced with information held on the registry. There is a charge of £25 and the search will be completed within a couple of days.