What is a beneficiary?
A beneficiary is a person that is entitled to an inheritance from the estate of someone who has passed away. Being a beneficiary means that you have been named in the Will by the testator and will either receive a specified asset, a specified cash amount or a share of the estate. Alternatively, if the deceased left no Will, the heirs of the estate are identified by a set of laws called the Rules of Intestacy and will receive a share of the estate.
How do you know if you are named in a will?
Whilst alive, the writer of the will does not have to share the contents of their Will with anyone. However, in practice, it is common for a testator to discuss their intentions with their chosen executors and beneficiaries in preparation for their death.
If the testator chooses to not share the contents of their Will whilst alive you will not know for certain if you have been named a beneficiary until they pass away. The executor has a legal responsibility to identify and notify any beneficiaries named in the Will. An executor must notify an heir of their entitlement to inherit from the estate. If you are the beneficiary of the estate the executor will notify you in due time.
If you suspect you have been named in a Will but have not been notified within a couple of months of the death you can request confirmation from the executor of the estate. This is best done via a formal written request to the executor. You have the right to know if you are a beneficiary and the executor should reply confirming your right to inherit from the estate and what your share of the estate is. If you have not been named in the Will, it is up to the executor’s discretion, or courtesy, to inform you that you are not a beneficiary.
Can a beneficiary be removed from a will?
A beneficiary can be removed from a Will by the testator at any point. A testator (the person writing the Will) can choose to amend or update their Will whenever they like, through the use of a codicil.
They may even choose to write a completely new Will. A testator is not obligated to inform a person that they have been added or removed from the Will. However, it is recommended that the testator keep their executor and beneficiaries up to date on any changes to their Will. This can help to avoid confusion over whether it is the latest version or the validity of the Will and upsetting surprises upon their death.
When should an executor notify beneficiaries?
Beneficiaries have a right to be notified that they are entitled to an inheritance from the estate. It is up to the executor to decide when is an appropriate time to inform the beneficiaries. However, it is better to do this sooner rather than later. Often executors will inform beneficiaries at the beginning of the administration of the estate. This allows the executor the opportunity to prepare them for the administration process and answer any questions they may have about the terms of the Will. It can also help to prevent claims against the estate or give the executor the opportunity to prepare for claims. Notifying beneficiaries promptly can also prevent unnecessary distress to those who are unsure of their entitlement.
When can a beneficiary see the Will?
A beneficiary is not entitled to a copy of a Will, it is up to the executor to decide if the Will is to be made available. However, providing a copy of the Will can provide clarification and settle any questions a beneficiary may have about the deceased’s wishes. In practice, it is rare for a copy of the Will to be withheld from the beneficiaries.
If an executor chooses not to share the Will, you can see the Will once probate has been granted. This is because the Will becomes a public document and a copy of the will (as well as a copy of the grant of probate) can be purchased from the Government Website. If probate is not required the beneficiaries may never see the Will.
Can beneficiaries change a will after death?
Beneficiaries can change a Will after death with the agreement of the executor. A Deed of Variation is a document that changes the wishes in the Will. There are many reasons for changing a Will after death. For example, including someone that has been left out. However, there are some conditions to using a Deed of Variation.
The beneficiary whose inheritance is negatively affected by the change must ;
1) Agree to the change
2) Be over 18 years old
3) Have the mental capacity to agree
Can a will be challenged after death?
A beneficiary has the right to contest the Will if there are sufficient grounds to do so. These grounds usually involve establishing if the testator had testamentary capacity, was under duress or undue influence or lacked an understanding of what they were doing. Ideally, beneficiaries should make a claim as soon as possible. Once the executor has obtained probate and started to distribute the estate it can become much more difficult to contest.
A beneficiary can challenge a Will before probate has been granted by means of a document called a caveat. A probate caveat is a document that is filed in court to prevent the proposed executors of a deceased’s estate from getting permission to administer the estates assets. A probate caveat should not be used where someone wants to challenge the content of a Will or make a family provision application.
What information is a beneficiary of a will entitled to?
As a beneficiary of a Will, you have the right to be notified that the Will is a valid document, that you have been named as a beneficiary and the details of what you have been left by the deceased. You are only entitled to information about your Inheritance and not details about another beneficiary’s inheritance.
Any information beyond the beneficiary’s entitlement, for example, specific details of assets, progress of administration or complications that arise, is up to the executor’s discretion to disclose. However, it is good practice for an executor to be open and transparent with the beneficiaries about the administration and any delays. This can aid in a smooth administration process and avoid contention between the executor and beneficiaries.
Is a beneficiary entitled to see estate accounts?
A beneficiary’s right to see the estate’s accounts is dependent on the type of beneficiary they are. Only residuary beneficiaries have the right to see the estate accounts. A residual beneficiary is a person inheriting a percentage or share of what is left of the estate after liabilities and pecuniary legacies have been paid. Therefore, a residual beneficiary is entitled to the estate accounts so they can see how their inheritance was arrived at.
A person receiving a specified cash amount, known as a pecuniary beneficiary, is not entitled to see the estate accounts. This because their inheritance is a set amount and is not affected by the income or outgoings of the estate.
Should executors keep beneficiaries informed?
Keeping beneficiaries informed can contribute to a smooth and efficient administration process. Allowing heirs to contribute and make decisions about their inheritance can make a difficult time that little bit easier. Leaving beneficiaries in the dark can lead to discontent and mistrust. Beneficiaries who feel that information has been withheld from them or that they have been excluded from the process can start to feel worried about the entire administration. This causes unnecessary stress and anxiety at an already difficult time. Which can often lead to difficulties between executors and beneficiaries. In turn, this can lead to a longer administration period or in severe cases costly court proceedings.
Although it’s recommended that an executor keep beneficiaries informed, they are not expected to report back to the beneficiaries for everything. If updates are expected too frequently this can become unmanageable for the executor to maintain. To avoid frustration on both sides it can be beneficial for everyone to discuss at the beginning of the process what expectations there are and how these will be handled.
How long does the executor have to pay the beneficiaries?
There is a legal rule known as “the executors year” that allows the executor a year to assess the estate, obtain probate, collect assets and settle liabilities. Within this year the executor is not obligated to distribute any of the estate’s assets. This is to allow the executor time to ensure they have properly handled the estate without the pressure of having to rush to distribution. If an executor was to make an ill-judged distribution there can be serious consequences for which they can be held personally liable. An executor can withhold money from a beneficiary during this year and should avoid distribution during this time if there are still unsettled debts, liabilities or claims against the estate. The time it takes to settle liabilities will be different for every estate depending on size and complexity. Some estates will take longer than a year to distribute.
Can the beneficiaries of a will change the executor?
As a beneficiary, you have the right to challenge an executor if you feel they are mismanaging the administration of the estate. In extreme cases, you have the right to remove an executor where there has been dishonesty (theft or tax avoidance), where the estate has been mismanaged (damage or loss of assets), where they have failed to keep proper accounting records (negligence) or attempted to sell a property under market value.
Although as a beneficiary you have the right to challenge an executor, actually removing their authority to administer the estate or handle assets must be done by a court. The court will not usually act on the basis that there is a bad relationship between the beneficiaries and the executor. There must be clear evidence of misconduct before they will make an order to remove the executor/personal representative.
Can a beneficiary apply for probate?
A beneficiary can apply for probate if no executors are named in the Will, or none of the executors are prepared to act. The beneficiary would take on the role of administrator and apply for letters of administration with the Will annexed. If there is no Will, the person entitled to administer the estate through the Rules of Intestacy is often also the beneficiary.
A beneficiary does not have the right to administer the estate on behalf or in the place of an executor. An executor is solely responsible for carrying out the administration of the estate and for honouring the deceased’s wishes. It is not the responsibility or right of the beneficiaries to participate in the administration process, to make decisions about how the estate will be administered or how the executor will be performing their role.
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