What Does an Executor Have to Disclose to Beneficiaries?
When a loved one passes away, the administration of their estate can be a complex and overwhelming process. During the period of estate administration, beneficiaries often have questions regarding their rights, the estate assets, and the responsibilities of the executor, including what they must disclose.
Understanding the requirements of an executor's duty and the information they must disclose to estate beneficiaries is often essential. It ensures that the administration of the estate is transparent and fair. However, providing information is not always a legal requirement, and it is vital that executors understand and perform their duties properly.
In this guide, our probate experts provide some clarity on how often executors should communicate with beneficiaries and what they need to disclose. In addition to this, we will highlight how Percy Hughes & Roberts Solicitors can help in navigating the complexities of the probate process.
If you have any questions we have not answered, our expert probate solicitors are happy to speak to you regarding your probate query and provide the legal services you need. You can contact us by completing the enquiry form below or by calling 0151 666 9090.
What Is an Executor?
An executor is an individual appointed by the testator (the person who wrote the will) to carry out the administration of their estate upon their death. The executor's role is to ensure that the instructions and wishes outlined in the will are followed and that the estate is managed and distributed in accordance with the law.
The executor holds a position of trust and has various responsibilities to the deceased's estate and its beneficiaries, including:
- Gathering and safeguarding the deceased's assets
- Valuing the estate, accounts, assets and liabilities of the deceased
- Paying debts and taxes
- Selling any estate property or assets
- Distributing the estate
- Managing legal and administrative tasks
In most cases, family and/or friends will be chosen to act as executors. People may also appoint professional executors, like a solicitor. The role is vitally important, and there is often a lot of work involved, which sometimes means that executors fail to uphold their responsibilities - this is one reason why choosing a professional executor can be beneficial, especially for complex estates.
What Is a Beneficiary?
Beneficiaries are the individuals who receive the money, properties, possessions, and other valuable items from a deceased person's estate. In order to be entitled to inherit anything from the estate, a person must be specifically named as a beneficiary in the deceased person's will.
The specific details regarding who inherits what must be clearly outlined in the will. It is important to note that beneficiaries do not have the authority to independently redistribute the deceased person's assets among themselves. However, once they receive their inheritance, they are free to use or dispose of it as they see fit.
In cases where there is no will, beneficiaries may still receive inheritance based on the rules of intestacy. These rules stipulate who is to receive what proportions of the estate as set out in statute.
What Are Estate Beneficiaries Entitled to Know?
After a death, beneficiaries often want to see the will or be informed about the progress of administering the estate. However, it is within the executor's discretion to determine what information to disclose and when, and estate beneficiaries do not have a legal right to any information about the process.
As with many things related to the administration of an estate, there is no concrete rule in relation to what an executor has to disclose and when they have to update beneficiaries. Having said this, there are some best practices to follow.
Executors are encouraged to be as transparent as possible and keep beneficiaries informed about the administration process, ensuring that they are aware of any important developments or decisions that may affect their inheritance.
In addition to this, once a Grant of Probate has been issued and the administration process is underway, executors are required to keep a full account of the estate, including an estate inventory. They must be ready to show these accounts if beneficiaries ask for them.
As an executor, if you do receive a request to disclose documents to a potential beneficiary, you should exercise your discretion and consider the following:
- The nature of the beneficiary’s interest – A beneficiary is entitled to information about the amount or item that they are to receive. Any residuary beneficiaries who will receive a percentage of the estate should be made aware of this.
- The information requested - Does the information that you have been asked to share have any bearing on beneficiaries and/or could it impact the ultimate amount they will receive?
- The reasons for the request – Is the reason for the request genuinely related and relevant to the distribution of the estate?
- Whether information could be confidential - Does the information relate to other beneficiaries that could be confidential to them?
- The cost to the estate – Will providing this information cost the executor (and therefore the estate) in time and expenses to obtain it from a third party, such as a bank or pension provider? Other beneficiaries could dispute this request if so.
If the executor refuses to provide the information or documents requested by beneficiaries, this can sometimes lead to estate disputes. If the administration takes a long time and the potential beneficiaries are left without information, they may conclude that it is because the named executor is not fulfilling their responsibilities effectively. In such cases, they may petition to have the executor removed or accuse them of executor misconduct.
It is always best to avoid these outcomes however possible, whether by appointing a professional executor with sufficient experience to make careful judgements about the information they share, or simply by ensuring that your executor understands their responsibilities properly.
When Can Beneficiaries See the Will?
It is common for beneficiaries to request to see the will before probate is granted. Before the grant of probate is issued, only the executors named in the will are entitled to read the will. Executors hold the discretion to decide whether or not to disclose the will to any potential beneficiary.
Having said this, once probate is granted and the will becomes a public document, it can be obtained from the Probate Registry by anyone who requests a copy. For this reason, there is often little point in refusing to supply a copy of the will to an interested beneficiary.
How Often Does an Executor Have to Keep Beneficiaries Informed?
The frequency of updates from an executor to beneficiaries does not have to have a fixed timeframe. However, it is considered best practice for all parties involved to establish an agreement at the outset regarding how and when beneficiaries will be kept informed during the estate administration process.
Ultimately, maintaining open lines of communication between the executor and beneficiaries is often crucial for a smooth estate administration and in the best interests of all parties. While the executor is not obligated to provide constant updates, they should be responsive to reasonable requests for information and ensure that beneficiaries are kept relatively informed throughout the process.
How Can Percy Hughes & Roberts Help?
At Percy Hughes & Roberts Solicitors, we have a team of dedicated wills and probate solicitors who are ready to help you resolve your query or issue relating to this area of the law as quickly and effectively as possible.
A key area of concern for both executors and beneficiaries during the probate process involves what information should be disclosed and when. Gaining a clear understanding of these requirements is crucial in ensuring a transparent and fair estate administration.
We hope this brief guide has shed some light on the roles and responsibilities of both parties. If you have any questions we have not answered, or if you would like to discuss appointing a professional executor to handle these responsibilities, you can contact our Wills, Trusts and Probate team for more information.