Have YOU been ROBBED of an inheritance by a bungling BANK?
As haunting story of a Holocaust survivor’s forgotten £130,000 triggers a major investigation . . .
AMAJOR investigation into inheritance payouts has been launched after a bank discovered it was sitting on almost £130,000 belonging to a Holocaust survivor who died 12 years ago.
Santander is trawling through databases after realising it failed to contact the man’s solicitor about two of his five accounts.
The bank admits to poor record-keeping and fears it may have left other families or executors of wills in the dark. A spokesman refused to say how many could be affected, but Money Mail understands other banks may have made similar errors.
In some cases, bereaved families could receive thousands of pounds in interest to cover the delays.
The heart-rending story of Karl Lenobel, who spent much of his childhood in Nazi concentration camps, is one of the first to emerge. Karl was captured as a teenager in Vienna with his parents and moved from camp to camp until the war ended in 1945.
He survived, but his parents perished at the hands of the Nazis. The last thing he remembered his mother saying before she died was to look after his older sister, Katherine, who’d escaped to Britain before war broke out.
So, when Katherine’s husband died in the Nineties, Karl, who had emigrated to America to work as a sea merchant, moved to London. He stayed there until he died, aged 84, in October 2004.
Because neither he nor Katherine, who’d passed away six months earlier, had children of their own, Karl left most of his savings to three children’s charities.
He told his solicitor, Geoffrey Greenhouse, that because he hadn’t had a childhood, he wanted to help make sure others didn’t miss out. Karl had been a prudent saver and invested the money he’d accumulated over the years in the stock market.
His sister had left him her life savings to pass on to the charities, too. MR
GReeNHOUSe acted on Karl’s wishes to the letter, closing the three Santander accounts in his will and distributing the money. Yet, inexplicably, the bank failed to inform Karl’s solicitor about two other accounts in his name.
Mr Greenhouse had no idea these accounts even existed until last November, when he received a letter from Santander stating that there was £127,338 in two Instant Saver accounts belonging to Karl.
The bank had made a note on the accounts that Karl had died, but had failed to contact Mr Greenhouse — even though it had his details on file.
Santander says the problems first came to light around 18 months ago, when it began investigating ways to improve its treatment of bereaved customers, prompted by Money Mail’s Looking After Your Legacy campaign, which highlighted the difficulties grieving families face dealing with departed loved ones’ finances.
The bank discovered dormant accounts with what are known as ‘deceased indicators’ on them. This meant it knew the customers had died, but nothing had been done to distribute the money in the accounts.
Now, the bank is working to get those funds to the right people by tracing relatives and the solicitors in charge of the estates and urging them to get in touch.
The letter sent to Mr Greenhouse in November says: ‘We write to inform you that the accounts of the late Mr Karl Lenobel are still open. We realise this is a very sensitive matter and we’re sorry for any distress this letter may cause, however we’d like to understand what you want us to do with the accounts.’
The bank requested that Mr Greenhouse complete the enclosed probate form and return it in a prepaid envelope, along with a copy of his ID.
When Mr Greenhouse questioned why the bank had not notified him sooner, Santander wrote: ‘Following an in-depth review of a number of accounts, we found that some customers who are now deceased had money held in their accounts which was not paid out to their next of kin or estate after their death. Please accept my sincere apologies for any distress this may have caused.’
The bank is adding interest of 8 pc a year and says it will pay any reasonable expenses, such as for tax advice. In Karl’s case, the interest has boosted his total balance to £ 219,941 after tax. Mr Greenhouse, of Greenhouse Stirton & Co Solicitors in London, began his career specialising in reuniting Holocaust survivors and their families with money in German and Swiss bank accounts.
He says: ‘I was worried they thought I hadn’t done my job properly, but the bank knew he had died — I’d closed three other accounts there. These charities should have had this money years ago. Karl also left some of his estate to the children of a man who had survived the camps with him, so they will get a small share, too.’
Sue Willis, director simplification for Santander UK, says: ‘ We recognise that the service we provided the late Mr Lenobel’s estate was not good enough. We are sorry for this.
‘It was a review of our probate and bereavement processes, in part triggered by the campaign run by Money Mail, that led us to identify that two of Mr Lenobel’s accounts were still open.
‘Losing a loved one is, of course, a distressing time. We have redefined our service focusing on what the bereaved customer needs at this time. Changes we have now put in place mean that the mistakes we made in managing Mr Lenobel’s estate after his death cannot be repeated.’
Santander has had problems with missing accounts before. In 2012, Money Mail revealed that savers were being fobbed off when they tried to withdraw cash from old passbook accounts.
The bank accused customers of withdrawing funds years earlier but, in many cases, later discovered the savings did still exist. Many customers had passbooks from Abbey and Alliance & Leicester, which Santander took over in 2004 and 2008, respectively.
In the case of the dormant accounts belonging to deceased customers, Santander will continue to send letters chasing the next of kin to take action.
If it receives no response after several attempts at contact, the money will go to the Government.
Claims can still be made if relatives were to come forward at a later date.
For more information, call Santander’s dedicated line for bereaved customers on 0800 587 5870, or write to: Bereavement Centre, PO Box 524, Bradford BD1 5ZH.