Beneficiary concerns about executors and estate administration
Being a beneficiary of a Will can be a frustrating experience as months and possibly years go by without receiving your entitlement, because whilst you have a legal right to receive money and/or possessions, you have little power over the process.
That power lies with the Executors and some will always be more diligent and organised in their role than others.
Regardless of how effective the Executors of an estate may be, delays can still arise as the result of legitimate difficulties, such as tax issues or some legal hurdle concerning the Will itself. On other occasions, however, delay and/or lack of communication with the beneficiaries is simply due to the neglect, incompetence or even dishonesty of the Executors.
Whatever the cause of the particular issues, beneficiaries will want to know what exactly is going on, not only for their peace of mind but so that they can plan financially and also take action to speed matters up and secure their entitlement in a timely manner.
Our lawyers advise beneficiaries with concerns about estate administration who want to know what options they have and the best approach to take. If you are in this situation, please do get in contact.
Legal rights of beneficiaries in a will
The first point to note is that there are broadly 3 different types of beneficiary :-
- A pecuniary beneficiary, who receives a fixed sum of money
- A specific beneficiary, who receives belongings such as jewellery or a car, and
- A residuary beneficiary, who receives a fixed share of what is left over after (a) and (b) and all debts and taxes have been paid
Is there a right to see the will?
Understandably the first thing many beneficiaries wish to see is a copy of the Will and whilst it is common practice to provide a copy to residuary beneficiaries (although not to the other categories of beneficiary) there is no obligation on Executors to do so. Once probate has been granted, however, the Will becomes a document of public record and can be accessed via the government website: probatesearch.service.gov.uk/#wills
Although beneficiaries have no right to see the Will before it is probated, they do have a right to be informed by the Executor of what their entitlement is
Is there a legal right to see the estate accounts?
Residuary beneficiaries, but not the other categories of beneficiary, have a right to see estate accounts at the end of the administration process and whilst there is no standard format, these accounts ought to provide a clear financial record of all assets that have passed through the Executors’ hands and all receipts and payments.
Probate delays – what can beneficiaries do?
In a long running estate administration it is also good practice for Executors to provide the residuary beneficiaries with one or more sets of interim estate accounts throughout the administration process providing a snapshot of what has been achieved up to that point
Can executors be removed?
In our experience most issues with Executors can be resolved with patience and effective communication, however, where there are serious problems with the Executors’ handling of an estate that cannot be resolved in this way then the most important right that any beneficiary has is the right to apply to the Court to have the Executors removed and replaced.
Removal is not automatic, however, the Court will normally comply with the request in the following circumstances:-
- Where the executor has been sent to prison
- Where they are incapable of performing their duties
- Where there is a serious conflict of interest
- Where executors are otherwise unsuitable for the role of executor (this is a catch-all and covers many of the practical problems that can arise as a result of dishonesty or gross incompetence)
If you are a beneficiary and have concerns about how the estate is being administered one of our experienced team will be happy to assist.