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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.  

What are beneficiaries entitled to receive? 

Like many things arising from the administration of the 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. 

A beneficiary who is denied information which he or she believes she should properly have may take this to be an indication that something is being hidden or in some way the administration is being dealt with incorrectly and may consider this to be a reason to make an application to Court for what is called an Inventory and Account.  In appropriate cases the Court can order an Executor to provide an Inventory and Account which is in effect a statement on oath setting out full details of the Estate and a Court can order that the costs of such an application be paid by an Executor personally.  This will only usually be done however if the Court is satisfied that there is a good reason to make such an Order. 

It is common for beneficiaries to ask to see a copy of the Will.  It is however your discretion as Executor whether or not to disclose it to the beneficiary.  

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

However it should be remembered that when probate of the Will is granted the Will becomes a public document and can be obtained from the Probate Registry by anyone who requests a copy by doing a standing search.  There is often therefore little point in refusing to supply a copy of the Will to an interested beneficiary.  

Only residuary beneficiaries are entitled to see a copy of the Estate account themselves i.e. the full statement of all of the Estate assets and liabilities including Executors expenses.  There are however 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 Court for an Inventory and Account to be ordered.  

Some times beneficiaries want to see more detailed documents such as a Deceased’s bank statement or pension documentation.  Strictly speaking a beneficiary has no entitlement as of right to such documentation and it is your discretion as Executor whether or not to disclose it.  

If you do receive a request to disclose documents then in exercising your discretion you should usually consider the following matters:-

  1. The nature of the beneficiary’s interest.  Greater weight would 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 this in fact 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 bona fide request for information genuinely relating to the Estate? 

  4. Whether the information may be 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.

If you wish to know more about this, then please contact Grahame Henry at grahame.henry@clough-willis.co.uk or 0800 083 0815.