What Rights do Estate Beneficiaries have to Information?

 

 

Following a death and during the course of the estate administration process, there is often confusion as to what rights beneficiaries have and what information they are entitled to receive from the executors.

While it is often beneficial to communicate with beneficiaries regarding the estate administration, executors are not required to comply with every single request for information. Beneficiaries are often surprised to discover that in reality they have a right to very little information regarding an estate. Their legal right extends only to being told if they are a beneficiary named in a person’s will and they are also entitled to be told what, if anything, has been left to them and the full amount of inheritance they will receive.

It is very common for a beneficiary or potential beneficiary (who expects to have been included in someone’s will) to ask to see a copy of the will. Beneficiaries or potential beneficiaries have no automatic right to see a copy of the will regardless of their relationship to the deceased, or the value of their legacy or entitlement under the Will.

There is no obligation on executors to disclose the will before probate has been granted and an executor may choose to disclose it entirely at their own discretion as it remains a private document until probate is granted. However, once probate has been granted, the Will becomes a public document and a copy can be obtained from the Probate Registry by anyone who requests a copy.

Residuary beneficiaries

It is common practice (although again, not obligatory) to show a copy of the will to beneficiaries of the residuary estate (i.e. what is left once any debts have been paid and specific gifts have been made) but they are not automatically entitled to see the will, although they do have the right to know who the executors are, and it is good practice to provide estimates of how long probate might take and when the residuary estate might be distributed.

Residuary beneficiaries are additionally entitled to receive a copy of the estate accounts, once these have been prepared, so that they can see how their share of the inheritance has been calculated. They are not entitled, as of right, to any information over and above that and it is again down to the executors’ discretion whether or not to provide any additional information or documents requested.

However, if an executor does not provide a copy of the estate accounts within a reasonable timeframe after they are finalised, then the residuary beneficiary may be entitled to make an application to Court for an Inventory and Account. In effect, this is a statement on oath setting out full details of the Estate and a Court can order that the costs of such an application be paid by an Executor personally. However this will only usually be done if the Court is satisfied that there is a good reason to make such an Order.

Considerations for executors to take into account

As discussed above, it is down to the executors’ discretion as to whether or not they disclose additional information or documents over any above that which certain beneficiaries are entitled to.

However, there are certain factors that may be useful to take into account when deciding whether or not to provide a beneficiary with additional information:

  1. What information are they requesting?

If the request impacts upon what they are entitled to receive or the ultimate amount to be received, then this may affect the decision of whether or not to disclose the information.

  1. Is the requested information confidential?

Consider whether the information also relates to other beneficiaries and whether you would be releasing information that should properly be confidential to them.

  1. What is the nature of the beneficiary’s interest?

Are they a residuary beneficiary? Do they have a substantial interest in the Estate or are they due to receive only a small legacy? Are they even named in the will? A potential beneficiary may think they have been included but if not then they are not entitled to any information.

  1. Why are they requesting the information?

It is useful to consider whether this is a genuine request for information relating to the Estate or is it simply to cause disruption and delay? Where there are tensions between the executors and a beneficiary, the beneficiary may simply be trying to be difficult in making a request for information or may even be considering making a claim against the estate.

  1. Will providing the information incur unreasonable time and cost to the Estate?

If the information is readily available then there may be better reason to disclose it rather than if it has to be obtained from a third party such as a bank or pension provider which may incur additional time and expense. Consider what is in the best interests of the estate.

If a beneficiary or potential beneficiary is requesting certain information and you are not sure whether or not to disclose it, or if you are a beneficiary requesting information you believe you are entitled to and it is not forthcoming, then please do get in touch with us and we would be happy to advise.

 

 

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