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Who Contacts Beneficiaries of a Will?

When a loved one passes away, the task of managing and distributing their estate belongs to certain chosen individuals. One of these tasks includes informing the beneficiaries of the death and their share of the estate. Here, we explain who has the legal responsibility to inform beneficiaries of a person's will that they have died.

After the death of a loved one, the process of settling their affairs begins. Central to this process are the beneficiaries of their will. These individuals, often family members or close friends, stand to inherit the deceased's assets once any outstanding debts or Inheritance Tax liabilities are paid. In most cases, beneficiaries will want to know about their loved one's will straight away, but this may not be possible - especially if they want specific information about estate assets or their inheritance. So, how and when will an executor notify beneficiaries about their entitlements?

This guide aims to clarify who the beneficiaries are, who contacts the beneficiaries of a will, and when they should be contacted. If you have any questions we have not answered, our expert Wills, Trusts & Probate solicitors are happy to speak to you regarding your 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 Are Beneficiaries?

Beneficiaries are the individuals who are chosen to inherit assets, property, money, and other valuable possessions from the estate of a deceased person. To become a beneficiary, a person must be explicitly named in the deceased’s will.

A beneficiary can be any individual that the deceased person has chosen to nominate in their will. They are normally family members like children and grandchildren, and can also often be friends. Other beneficiaries may be entities like charities and organisations.

The specific distribution of assets among beneficiaries must be clearly defined within the will. Beneficiaries are not able to independently redistribute the assets among themselves. However, once they receive their inheritance, they have the freedom to utilise or dispose of the assets as they deem appropriate.

Who Contacts Beneficiaries of a Will?

The primary responsibility of contacting beneficiaries lies with the executor of the will, or the solicitor representing the executor.

It is the executor's legal obligation to administer the estate and ensure that the assets, money, properties, and possessions are distributed to the chosen beneficiaries as specified in the will. This means that the executor must inform the beneficiaries of their inheritance in order to properly distribute the estate according to the will.

If an executor does not contact beneficiaries as required, it can lead to various issues and concerns in the estate administration process, including delayed distribution of the estate, strained family/friend relationships, and even legal claims against the executor.

What Is an Executor?

An executor is an individual appointed by a testator (the person who wrote the will) to carry out the administration of their estate after their death. The role of an executor is crucial in ensuring that the instructions and wishes outlined in the deceased person's will are faithfully executed and that the deceased's estate is managed and distributed to the appropriate beneficiaries.

Their role includes:

  • Registering the death
  • Gathering and safeguarding the deceased's assets
  • Applying for probate
  • Valuing the estate
  • Settling outstanding debts and taxes
  • Informing beneficiaries
  • Closing bank accounts
  • Selling estate property, where relevant
  • Managing legal and administrative tasks
  • Paying beneficiaries or otherwise distributing their gifts

Executors are chosen by the testator, and may include family members, friends, or professionals like solicitors. Administering an estate can be complex and difficult, and problems in applying for probate, delay administering the estate assets or other challenges can mean that beneficiaries entitled to gifts from the estate are not told immediately.

In these cases, or if an executor refuses to inform beneficiaries, there may be steps you can take to find information for yourself. If a grant of probate has been issued, the will becomes a public document and you can apply for your own copy if you believe you may be due to receive a gift from the estate. If no grant of probate has been issued and it has been a long time since the person died, you may be able to have the executor removed from their position for failing to move the process forward. Speak to a solicitor for expert advice about beneficiary rights in your circumstances and learn what steps are available to you.

When Should an Executor Contact Beneficiaries?

The timing of when an executor should contact beneficiaries varies depending on the specific circumstances of the estate. Executors are given a certain amount of leeway and control over this aspect of the estate administration process, although there are common situations in which an executor will typically contact everyone named as a beneficiary:

  • At the beginning of estate administration: Executors often inform beneficiaries at the outset of the estate administration process that they should expect to inherit from the estate. This early notification allows beneficiaries to be aware of their entitlement and initiates communication between the executor and beneficiaries.
  • Upon obtaining probate: When executors have obtained the Grant of Probate (the legal authorisation to administer the estate), they may contact beneficiaries again to formally notify them of their status as beneficiaries and the impending distribution of assets.
  • For important updates: Executors should keep beneficiaries informed of significant developments or decisions that may affect their inheritance. This includes updates on the progress of the administration, the sale of assets, and any potential delays or challenges.
  • To prevent claims against the estate: Timely communication with beneficiaries can help prevent potential claims against the estate. There are several challenges that can arise when administering an estate, and executors should keep beneficiaries up-to-date. Beneficiaries who are aware of the process are less likely to feel the need to contest the will or take legal action in response to delays.
  • When distribution is expected: Executors typically contact beneficiaries when the distribution of assets is imminent. This ensures that beneficiaries are prepared to receive their inheritance and can provide any necessary information, such as bank account details, for the transfer of assets.
  • Upon request: Beneficiaries have the right to request certain information about the estate administration process at any time. Executors should be responsive to reasonable requests for updates and information.

While there is no fixed rule regarding when an executor should contact beneficiaries, open and transparent communication throughout the estate administration process is generally a good idea.

Executors should use their discretion to determine the appropriate timing for contacting beneficiaries based on the complexity of the estate and the beneficiaries' needs for information and clarity.

How can Percy Hughes & Roberts help?

The process of notifying beneficiaries of a will is a crucial aspect of estate administration. Beneficiaries have specific entitlements and expectations. Executors play a pivotal role in ensuring that beneficiaries are informed, their rights are respected, and the estate is distributed in accordance with the deceased's wishes.

At Percy Hughes & Roberts, we understand the complexities of estate administration and the importance of clear communication between executors and beneficiaries. Our experienced team of solicitors is here to assist both executors and beneficiaries in navigating the probate process by addressing any questions or concerns and helping to ensure a smooth distribution of assets.

If you require legal advice in relation to writing a will, legal assistance after a death, or help with anything else to do with wills, trusts and probate, Percy Hughes & Roberts can help. If you would like to contact one of our expert wills, trusts and probate solicitors, you can do so by calling 0151 666 9090 or by completing the “Get in touch” form on this site.

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