Your rights as a beneficiary of a Will
The First right you have as a beneficiary is to be informed that you are, in fact, a beneficiary of the estate. This may sound obvious or even a little silly because as of course you would know if you are a beneficiary or not right? However, a person does not have to share the details of their Will with anyone, and whilst they are alive the beneficiaries have no rights, not even the right to know that they are a named beneficiary. The deceased may have shared a version or their Will or spoken of their wishes whilst alive, but the final Last Will and Testament may have been kept private and the contents may come as a bit of a surprise. As a beneficiary you have the right to know once the person passes away and the Will comes into place. It is the executor’s duty to inform someone that they are a beneficiary of the estate. A person that is not named in the Will does not have any rights to know the contents of the Will. It is up to the executors discretion, or curtesy, to inform someone not named in the Will that they are not a beneficiary.
When can a beneficiary see the Will?
A beneficiary is not entitled to a copy of a Will before probate is granted but it is up to the executor to decide if the Will is to be made available to the beneficiaries before that point. If an executor chooses to not share the Will, as a beneficiary you have the right to see the Will once probate has been issued. 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.
As a beneficiary of a Will what are my rights?
There are different types of beneficiaries, residual beneficiaries and legacy beneficiaries, and the amount of information or what information you are entitled to as a beneficiary is dependent on which one of these you are. However regardless of type, 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. Residuary beneficiaries also have the right to a see the estate accounts showing how their bequest was arrived at.
Any information beyond the beneficiary’s entitlement, for example 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 as this can aid a smooth administration of the estate and avoid contention between the executor and beneficiaries.
As a beneficiary you have the right 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 etc. Ideally, beneficiaries should make a claim as soon as possible. Once the executor has obtained probate and started to distribute the estate it can be can become much more difficult to contest.
A challenge to the Will can be made 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 are my rights as a beneficiary when it comes to the administration of the estate?
As a beneficiary you have the right to expect that the executor will carry out their duties properly, this involves accurately establishing what the estate comprises, protecting and gathering in all the assets, paying creditors including any taxes and distributing the estate to the beneficiaries. The duties of an executor are outlined in what is called “The Executors Oath” which is to be found at section 25 of the Administration of Estates Act 1925.
If an executor has failed in their duties, then the beneficiaries have the right to hold the executor personally liable for any financial loss incurred. This is particularly relevant when it comes to calculating and paying any taxes and settling any creditors. As a beneficiary you have the right to make a claim against the executor for up to six months after the Grant of Probate is issued.
As a beneficiary you do not have the right to administer the estate on the behalf or in the place of an executor. The executor or executors are 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. However, it can be beneficial for everyone to discuss at the beginning of the process what expectations there are and how these will be handled. It is good practice for a executor to discuss decisions about the estates assets and their administration with the beneficiaries, for example an executor may ask the beneficiary if they would prefer to receive a possession as is or to liquidise it and receive the cash from the possessions sale but it is the executor that is responsible for making the final decision.
As a beneficiary you have the right to challenge an executor if you feel they are mismanaging the administration of the estate and in extreme cases the right to remove them 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.