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What are the rights of beneficiaries in a deceased estate?

Most of us are familiar with the concept of beneficiaries receiving an inheritance in a deceased estate. In the movie industry this would usually involve getting a call from a lawyer telling you that you have inherited a (haunted) castle from your long lost relative – along with all their other worldly goods – …but you have to stay the night in your new abode as a condition of inheriting. While real life is not always this dramatic, the idea is pretty straightforward (except for the haunted part). But do beneficiaries have any other rights such as to information and can they make any decisions that affect the estate?

What are the rights of beneficiaries of a will in NSW?

A legal Will usually nominates at least one beneficiary to receive benefit from a deceased estate. Usually beneficiaries are named but sometimes (probably in the case of the long lost relative), the beneficiary might fall into a category of persons. It is the job of the executor to make sure the terms of the Will are observed and that includes making sure the beneficiaries receive what they are entitled to under the Will. Aside from this, what other rights do beneficiaries have?

Beneficiaries are entitled to a copy of the Will

While it may seem basic it still warrants confirming that beneficiaries are entitled to a copy of the Will if they make a request to receive a copy from the executor. In fact, in NSW any person named in the Will is entitled to a copy whether or not they are a beneficiary.

Beneficiaries have a right to information and documents

While some executors may not always provide information or documents without prompting, beneficiaries are entitled to request the executor provide them with information about the estate including estate assets, estate liabilities, any claim that has been made on the estate, expected timeline for the executor obtaining a Grant Probate and expected timeframe for distribution. Beneficiaries are also entitled to estate documents to verify details for themselves. These documents include requesting and being provided with a copy of the Grant of Probate, a copy of court documents filed when applying for Probate and documents verifying the value of the assets and liabilities in an estate.

Beneficiaries have the right to an accounting

Where beneficiaries are not satisfied that the documents they have been provided as to an estate’s assets and liabilities show a true accounting, a beneficiary has the right to an accounting of an estate at their own cost through the NSW Supreme Court. This requires an executor to provide a comprehensive and full showing of all transactions that have taken place, all bills rendered and paid, all expenses and distributions and monies used for assessment by the Court.

Beneficiaries have the right to have their best interests looked after

One of the primary duties of an executor is to look after a deceased estate for the benefit of the estate’s beneficiaries so while an executor is in charge of making decisions, those decisions are to be made in the best interests of the beneficiaries. Unless the Will provides beneficiaries with specific rights as to decision-making, such as first right of purchase of a property, it will be up to the executor to decide what is in the best interests of the estate and its beneficiaries.

Beneficiaries have the right to expect distribution within 12 months

In NSW executors have “an executors year” in which to do all things in looking after an estate so that within 12 months of your loved one’s date of death they are in a position where they can distribute an estate. While distribution can happen before 12 months, if distribution takes longer than one year the executor would need to be able to demonstrate that factors out of their control have extended the timeline.

Beneficiaries have the right to join court proceedings

In NSW there are a category of persons called ‘eligible persons’ who can make a claim against a person’s estate if they believe they should have been provided for and weren’t or if they believe they should have received more from the estate. In these situations, a beneficiary is required to be notified by an executor that Court proceedings have been started and each beneficiary has the right to join the proceedings as a party and have their interests considered by the Court.

Beneficiaries have the right to be legally represented

Executors often need a lawyer to help them look after a deceased estate. Beneficiaries also have the right to be legally represented in an estate to make sure their interests are being looked after and the estate is being dealt with and progressed according to law.  

Every deceased estate is different and it is not always easy to navigate or know what your rights and options are. If you have a query and want to chat it over with a lawyer why not book in a free 10 minute chat here or send us an email at [email protected].

We’ll look after you.

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