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What Is Probate & How Does It Work?

What Rights Does The Beneficiary Of A Will Have?

If you’ve been named as a beneficiary in a loved one’s Will, on top of grieving for your loss, you may have questions about the administration process.

You might not know when you will receive your share of the estate, which can leave you in financial uncertainty, especially if your home or income is included in the terms of the Will.

Many beneficiaries are not always sure what to do if they suspect the executor is mismanaging the estate, or simply not working fast enough.

Here we answer some of the common issues that come up around a beneficiary’s legal rights. If you have any further questions about the process, or need some legal advice on where you stand, our team will be happy to help.

Call today on 0370 1500 100 or fill out our online form and we’ll get back to you.

What Legal Rights Do I Have As A Beneficiary?

As a beneficiary, you only have legal rights over your share of the inheritance once the estate has been distributed. You do however have a right to information before then, so you can be kept up to date with the administration of the estate

The person in charge of administering the estate is called the executor . They have discretion over what information they share with beneficiaries, but it’s good practice to make everything as transparent as possible. They should agree with you at the start how often they’ll give you an update and stick to this throughout the administration process.

Once a Grant of Probate has been issued and the administration is underway, the executor – or executors, if there’s more than one – must keep accounts of the estate and be ready to show these if you ask for them. If you’re worried an executor is not being as open as they should be, we can help you make a request to see the accounts.

If you feel the executors are mismanaging the estate, you also have the right to take formal legal action against them. We cover this in more detail below.

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When Can I See The Will?

Technically, you only have the legal right to see the Will once the Grant of Probate is issued and it becomes a public document. This means if you were to ask to see the Will before then, the executors could theoretically refuse.

In practice, however, this is rare – you’d usually be told straightaway about any inheritance you’d been left, and if you asked to see the Will before the Grant of Probate had been issued, it’s unlikely you wouldn’t be allowed to.

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What Are Some Of The Common Issues Beneficiaries Face?

Beneficiaries will most often run into problems if the executor is not progressing things as fast as they want, or isn’t being clear about what’s going on. We’ve helped beneficiaries deal with issues such as:

  • Delay obtaining a Grant of Probate
  • Delay administering the estate once Probate has been obtained/li>
  • Lack of information
  • Failure to disclose accounts.

We can also help if you believe an executor is abusing their position and mismanaging the estate in some way. For example:

  • Being dishonest or reckless with funds from the estate
  • Selling property under market value
  • Trying to buy property from the deceased’s estate for themselves
  • Paying beneficiaries before settling outstanding debts.

If you’re worried about any of these circumstances, we can advise you on your rights and how we can help.

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How Can Irwin Mitchell Help?

If you have any concerns about the way an executor is administering an estate, we’ll be able to advise you on the best course of action.

This could include:

  • Requesting a full inventory of the estate and/or the accounts
  • Applying to remove an executor
  • Replacing an executor with someone more suitable
  • Applying for the estate to be restored if the executor’s actions have resulted in it losing value
  • Making a claim against the executor for breach of their duties

If the executor is in breach of their duties we can help you make a claim to hold them personally to account for any financial loss. Find more information on our page Challenging The Executor Of A Will.

We can also help you defend your position if you’re an executor facing a challenge from a beneficiary. Our specialist Will, Trust and Estate Disputes team has extensive experience helping both beneficiaries and executors and can help you resolve any disagreements that have come up.

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How Long Will It Take To Receive My Share Of The Estate?

There’s no simple answer to this – probate can take a long time and it will depend on the individual circumstances of each estate. In most cases however you might expect it to be between one to two years before everything is settled.

Before the estate can be distributed, the executor must settle any outstanding debts and make sure all assets are available. This could involve selling property whose value is to be split between different beneficiaries, which may take time. Complex estates, especially those involving foreign assets, can add to the delay.

An executor can’t be made to distribute an estate until one year has passed from the date of death: this is called the ‘executor’s year’. Even after this date, they can’t be forced to distribute it if there’s a good reason preventing them – for example, if they’re waiting on the sale of a property.

We appreciate it can be frustrating for beneficiaries, especially if you’re not sure what’s happening or when to expect your share. If you think things are taking too long or you’d just like more information, we can help you take the appropriate steps.

Call today on 0370 1500 100 or fill out our online form and we’ll get back to you.

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How Often Does The Executor Have To Keep Me Informed?

There’s no set timescale for how often an executor should update beneficiaries, however it’s good practice for everyone to agree at the start on how and when they’ll keep you informed while they’re administering the estate.

Once the Grant of Probate has been issued, the executor has to keep accounts and have these ready to show beneficiaries if they ask for them. If you’re concerned you’re not getting enough information from an executor, that things are taking too long or you’re not being allowed to see the accounts, our team will be able to advise you on your options.

Call today on 0370 1500 100 or fill out our online form and we’ll get back to you.

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Can An Executor Change A Will?

An executor can only change a Will in the following circumstances:

  • The beneficiary whose share is being changed consents to it
  • The beneficiary is an adult
  • The beneficiary has mental capacity.

If you decide you don’t want or need the inheritance you’ve been left, you can choose to reduce your share or exclude yourself completely from the Will.

If this is the case we can help you take steps to alter the Will – find out more on our page about changing a Will after death.

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What If The Executor Doesn't Want To Carry Out Their Duties?

If an executor doesn’t feel capable of taking up their duties, they can give up their right to administer an estate – this is called ‘renouncing’.

However, if they’ve already got the Grant of Probate and have taken steps to administer the estate, this is called ‘intermeddling’, and they are no longer allowed to renounce their duties.

If this is the case, they can only step down from their role by applying to the Court. We can help them make this application so a new executor can be appointed, or any other named executors can get on with administering the estate.

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Can The Executor Pass Their Duties Onto Someone Else?

An executor isn’t allowed to get someone else to make decisions for them, though they can instruct others to carry out practical or administrative tasks on their behalf.

If there is another named executor in the Will, they can also postpone their right to administer the estate without completely stepping down from their role. This is known as ‘power reserved’.

In the case of ‘power reserved’, the other executor would take out the Grant of Probate and administer the estate. This is often done if an executor lives abroad, or is too unwell or busy to carry out their duties.

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Can I Remove An Executor?

If you believe an executor is not carrying out their duties properly, you can apply to the Court to remove them from their role.

The Court will want to see evidence that they are not fit for the role. This may be the case if:

  • They’ve been convicted of a crime since they were appointed
  • They don’t have the physical or mental capacity to carry out their duties
  • There’s a conflict of interest
  • They’ve committed serious misconduct – such as mismanaging the estate, stealing from it, failing to keep accounting records or selling property under market value.

If you’re concerned about an executor’s actions, our dedicated Wills, Trusts and Estate Disputes team will be able to help you take steps to make a claim against them. Read more about challenging the executor of a Will.

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Contact Us

If you’ve got more questions or need some legal advice on your beneficiary rights, our team will be happy to help.

Call today on 0370 1500 100 or fill out our online form and we’ll get back to you.

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