How can the beneficiary of an estate be sure that they have received what they are entitled to?

Are you dealing with the estate of someone who has died, and want to know what records you must keep and what information you must give to the beneficiaries?

Written by: Sally Goodger and Rachel Wos Photography by: Freeths Solicitors

Personal representative’s duties

When someone dies, the Will or the intestacy provisions determine who is entitled to deal with the administration of the estate, and who is to benefit from the estate.

Personal representatives (the persons authorised to deal with a deceased person’s estate) have a duty to keep clear and accurate accounts.

These ‘estate accounts’ should contain a complete record of the financial transactions during the administration of an estate from the date of death to the date of distribution.

Estate accounts should show:

• All of the deceased’s assets;
• All of the deceased’s liabilities;
• Income received during the course of the administration;
• What tax has been paid;
• What fees and administration expenses have been incurred; and
• How the balance of the estate has been distributed.

Clear estate accounts ensure that the correct payments are made to the beneficiaries of the estate; and give the personal representatives and beneficiaries a clear overview.

There is no prescribed format for the estate accounts. A personal representative would be entitled to ask for professional help in preparing the estate accounts, and the costs of doing so can usually be met from the estate.

Beneficiaries’ rights

Once admitted to probate, a Will becomes a public document. A beneficiary who receives a cash legacy from an estate would have no need to see the estate accounts if they have received in full the sum due to them from the Will.

A beneficiary who receives a share of the residuary estate, is however entitled to ask for the estate accounts.
All too often, beneficiaries feel as though they have no information as to how the estate administration is progressing, if it has been dealt with properly, or when they are likely to receive their inheritance.

A personal representative is not bound to distribute the estate of the deceased before the expiration of one year from the death. This is known as the ‘executor’s year’. This means that a personal representative cannot be forced to distribute before the executor’s year is up and, even after the year’s end, a court will not order distribution if the personal representative can show that there are good reasons for retention and that the personal representative is acting honestly.

Sometimes there can be good reason why an estate is taking longer to administer than expected. It is however advisable to open up the lines of communication with the personal representative if as a beneficiary you have any concerns.

Writing to the personal representatives in the first instance may well put a beneficiary’s mind at ease if the personal representatives are able to explain the reasons for the apparent delays and provide a copy of the interim estate accounts.

“All too often, beneficiaries feel as though they have no information as to how the estate administration is progressing, if it has been dealt with properly, or when they are likely to receive their inheritance. ”

If no response is forthcoming, or if a beneficiary is not satisfied with the response from the personal representative, they may wish to consider taking further action.

Beneficiaries have the right to apply to the court for an order that the personal representatives produce a set of estate accounts, if the personal representatives have not provided them upon request (commonly referred to as, an inventory and account application).

The production of estate accounts allows beneficiaries to see what assets are in the estate and it should provide an indication as to why distribution has not taken place or when distribution is likely. Using this method effectively holds the personal representative to account with a view to the estate administration been completed without further delay, or face being in contempt of a court order.

Where the intervention of the court does not result in the timely distribution of the estate then beneficiaries may need to consider taking further steps to bring about the estate administration and distribution.

One option is to consider whether it is appropriate to apply to the court to remove one or more of the personal representatives. Such a step is not to be taken lightly and the courts are reluctant to remove personal representatives unless there is good evidence that the estate administration will not be completed without new personal representatives being appointed.

If you are an executor or beneficiary of an estate and require further information on any of the above matters or related issues please contact Rachel Wos or Sally Goodger at Freeths LLP on 01865 781000.

Freeths Solicitors

Freeths are a top 50, full service commercial law firm with 13 offices spread across the UK.

Stewart Elliston

Principal BD Manager

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