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What Are Beneficiaries Of An Estate Entitled To Know?

If you are the executor of an estate, you may find yourself under pressure from beneficiaries to provide them with information or documents in relation to the estate as the administration proceeds. This might lead you to ask: What are beneficiaries entitled to know about the estate? What information are they entitled to receive?

Like many things arising from the administration of an estate, there is no hard and fast rule. It is important to communicate with beneficiaries so that they do not feel that they are being left in the dark; but equally, as an executor you are not bound to pander to each and every request that you receive.

Here, Grahame Henry, an expert Wills, Trust & Probate solicitor at Clough & Willis, explains some of the considerations executors should make when evaluating what and how much information to give to beneficiaries when administering an estate.

The importance of communication

It is vital to keep beneficiaries informed during the administration process, especially if there are delays or other matters outside your control. A beneficiary who doesn’t receive any updates from the executor, or is specifically denied information that they believe they should properly have, may take this to be an indication that something is being hidden. A failure of communication like this can lead beneficiaries to think that the administration is being dealt with incorrectly in some way.

In these cases, a beneficiary may make an application to court for what is called an Inventory and Account. This is a statement made under oath setting out full details of the estate, and the court can order an executor to provide an Inventory and Account in appropriate cases.

The court can also order that the costs of such an application be paid by an Executor personally. This will only usually be done if the court is satisfied that there is a good reason to make such an order, but in any case, it is vital to avoid this outcome by prioritising communication with beneficiaries.

What are the most common requests beneficiaries make?

It is common for beneficiaries to ask to see a copy of the will, but you have no legal obligation to do so. Whether or not to disclose the will to the beneficiary is at your discretion as the executor.

Once probate has been granted and you begin to manage the estate, the will becomes a public document. As such, a beneficiary can request their own copy of the will from the Probate Registry by performing a standing search. This means that there is usually little point in refusing to supply a copy of the Will to an interested beneficiary.

It is common practice to show a copy of the will to residuary beneficiaries (i.e. the beneficiaries who will ultimately share in the will after payment out of legacy and expenses), but a will would not normally be seen by anyone who is not named in it.

Only residuary beneficiaries are entitled to see a copy of the estate account. The estate account includes the full statement of all of the estate’s assets and liabilities, including executors’ expenses. However, there are some exceptions to this general rule.

If a legitimate request to see a copy of the estate accounts is made then you should disclose these within a reasonable period of time. Again, in an appropriate case, if there is a failure to do so an application can be made to the court for an Inventory and Account to be ordered. 

Sometimes beneficiaries want to see more detailed documents, such as the deceased’s bank statements or pension documentation. Strictly speaking, a beneficiary has no entitlement or right to such documentation and it is at your discretion as executor whether or not you disclose it.

How should an executor evaluate what information to share?

If you receive a request to disclose documents and you have no legal obligation to provide the information, it will be up to you to decide whether or not to grant the request. In exercising your discretion, you should usually consider the following matters:

  1. The nature of the beneficiary’s interest. Greater weight should normally be given to a request by a beneficiary who has a substantial interest in the estate rather than a beneficiary who receives a small legacy.
  2. The information the beneficiary is requesting. Does it impact in any way upon what the beneficiary is entitled to receive or the ultimate amount to be received?
  3. The reasons for the request for information. Is this a legitimate request for information that genuinely relates to the estate?
  4. Whether the information is confidential. Does the information also relate to other beneficiaries and would you be releasing information that should properly be confidential to them?
  5. The cost to the estate of providing the information. Is the information readily available or would you have to incur time and expense in obtaining it from a third party (such as a bank or pension provider)?

If the point arises where dissatisfied beneficiaries are threatening an application to court - whether for an Inventory and Account or other relief - you should seek legal advice. It can also be worthwhile if you are creating a will to appoint a professional executor. As a neutral third party with experience in managing estates, a professional executor can help you to avoid any conflicts or disputes that might otherwise arise.

FAQs about what beneficiaries are entitled to know

Does an executor have to show accounting to beneficiaries?

Generally, only residuary beneficiaries are entitled to see a copy of the full estate accounts. However, it may be worthwhile to provide them in certain cases, in order to avoid the risk of a dispute arising.

An executor of a will has a fiduciary duty to the estate and its beneficiaries. They must act in the best interests of the estate and those who stand to inherit from it. To support this, it is advisable for an executor to keep accurate records and to be transparent in their dealings with beneficiaries to ensure that they are fulfilling their legal obligations.

Creating a detailed account of how the estate's assets have been managed and distributed can help to address any legal questions that arise, and help to avoid misunderstandings and disputes later on.

Can a beneficiary ask to see bank statements?

A beneficiary can ask to see bank statements, estate accounts or any other relevant documents, but it is for the executor to decide whether or not to share this information. Under most circumstances, beneficiaries do not have any legal right to access this information. Residuary beneficiaries are usually entitled to see a copy of the estate accounts - which will include information about the deceased’s bank accounts and other finances - and other beneficiaries may have a reasonable claim to this information.

If you are named in a will, do you get a copy?

You will not automatically receive a copy of a deceased person’s will, even if you are a named beneficiary. Before the testator (the person who created the will) dies, no one has any legal entitlement to a copy.

Once a Grant of Probate has been issued and the will becomes a public document, you can request a copy from the Probate Registry. Alternatively, you can speak to the executor of the estate and they may decide to provide you with a copy. They do not have a legal obligation to share the details of the will with you.

Do beneficiaries have a right to see the will?

Beneficiaries do not have a right to see the will simply because they are beneficiaries. However, once probate has been granted, the will becomes a public document and anyone can access a copy by applying to the Probate Registry. If you have asked to see a copy of the will and the executor has not provided this, you can perform a standing search and find this information for yourself.

Can an executor withhold money from a beneficiary?

UK law states that the estate must be managed according to the instructions of the deceased. As such, an executor cannot withhold money from a beneficiary, except in circumstances where the executor’s ability to pay relies on the sale of an asset. For example, a beneficiary does not have any rights to the proceeds from the sale of an estate property until the property has been sold.

There may be other delays that arise during the estate administration process. If things are not moving as quickly as you believe they should, try speaking to the estate’s executor to determine what is causing the delay. Communication is vital, as this is the fastest way to resolve any issues and ensure you receive your inheritance as soon as possible.

If a beneficiary is intentionally withholding money from you against the wishes expressed in the will, taking legal action might be your only recourse. It is vital to speak to a solicitor at the earliest opportunity in these cases, as if money you are owed is misspent by an executor it can be much more difficult to recover. An expert probate solicitor can explain your options and lead you towards the best possible outcome.

If you wish to know more or explore legal services related to probate matters, contact Clough & Willis Solicitors today by calling 0800 083 0815, or using our online enquiry form.


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