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Are Beneficiaries Entitled To A Copy Of The Will?

Are Beneficiaries Entitled To A Copy Of The Will

The beneficiary of a will is any person who is listed on the will as being entitled to receive a defined portion of the deceased person’s assets or income. If the person who has named you as a beneficiary dies, you will normally be contacted and made aware that you have been named as such. You may already know that you were listed as a beneficiary or you may not.

Your rights as a beneficiary of a will:

• As a beneficiary of a will, you are legally entitled to be notified whether or not a valid will was left and what your exact entitlement from the estate is, as laid out in the will.

• The executor of the will does not have a legal obligation to invite all beneficiaries of the will to attend the will reading, nor are they legally obliged to provide the beneficiary with a full copy of the will, unless the beneficiary makes a formal request for the executor to do so.

• Beneficiaries are entitled to receive their entitlement within 12 months of the deceased’s death. If there is any delay in the beneficiaries receiving their entitlements, the executor must provide a reason for the delay.

• Beneficiaries have no legal rights in terms of making funeral arrangements for the deceased, you may only consult with the executor and make any requests for the deceased’s funeral, which the executor is under no obligation to fulfill.

Executors of an estate have certain obligations to beneficiaries of an estate. When an executor does not fulfill his or her obligations, beneficiaries have certain rights to force an executor to comply. This usually means getting the court involved. Executors can significantly reduce their risk by respecting beneficiaries’ reasonable expectations and rights. A beneficiary should expect the following:

• Be provided with information: It is a fundamental right of a beneficiary to ensure that an estate is administered properly according to the terms of the Will. To do so, beneficiaries must be provided with enough information to enforce their rights. This generally includes the right to receive a copy of the Will shortly following the death of the deceased, and the right of being informed about the assets of the estate within a reasonable period of time. If a Will has been probated, any person can get a copy of the Will and the estate inventory from the court. However, in order to minimize disputes, the executor should consider sending a copy of these documents directly to the beneficiaries to ensure that they are properly informed.

• Receive their entitlement in a timely way: The length of time it takes to administer an estate will depend on its nature and complexity. It is quite normal for an estate to take a year to be administered. However, a wise executor may want to keep the beneficiaries informed of any expected delays.

• Be treated fairly: Beneficiaries have a right to be treated the same way as all other similar beneficiaries. The executor should not give preferential treatment to some beneficiaries and not to others, unless the Will directs them to do so. Even if the Will gives them discretion in dealing with certain assets as they see fit, an executor should keep beneficiaries informed to minimize possible disagreements, even if the final decision is up to him or her. An unhappy beneficiary has no recourse as long as the executor is respecting the obligations set out in the Will.

• Receive an accounting: Beneficiaries are entitled to an accounting a detailed report of all income, expenses, and distributions from the estate within a reasonable amount of time. Beneficiaries are also entitled to review and approve any compensation requested by the executor. Usually beneficiaries will be asked to agree to the executor’s accounting before receiving their final share of the estate. If beneficiaries do not agree with the accounting, they can force the executor to pass the accounts to the court. This means that the executor will need to show the court everything that has gone in and out of the estate while he or she was executor. At this point, the court can also be asked to confirm the executor’s compensation.

• Request the removal of the executor: If a beneficiary believes that the executor is not acting in the best interest of the estate, the beneficiary can ask the court to have that person removed as executor. However, a court will only remove an executor if it determines that their removal is justified. That usually means that the executor will remain executor unless he or she has been in serious breach of his or her obligations. It will not remove an executor simply because the beneficiaries disagree with some of his or her decisions. An application to remove the executor is not without risks. The court may find that the legal costs relating to the application be paid by the estate, the beneficiary personally, or by the executor depending on the circumstance.

To avoid disagreements an experienced or well-advised executor will not wait until beneficiaries start asking questions; they will let them know at regular intervals how the administration of the estate is progressing. Furthermore, if a beneficiary is not receiving the information they expect from an executor, they should request it. If you are a beneficiary of an estate and have any questions during the course of its administration and you cannot get a satisfactory explanation from the executor, you would be wise to consult your lawyer in order to enforce your rights. If you are expecting the traditional reading of a will that you see on television or in the movies that is rarely how it works. In fact, there is no legal requirement that a will be read aloud to anyone. But, you may be wondering whether beneficiaries are entitled to a copy of the will. It is the personal representative (executor) who determines who will receive a copy of the will or be notified of its contents. Once the will is filed with the probate court, then it becomes public record and anyone can see it if they request a copy from the probate court’s office.

The first person to see the will is usually the executor since that is typically the person who has knowledge of where the will is being kept. The executor is the person responsible for probating the estate according to the provisions in the will. It is the executor’s responsibility to read the will and determine who the beneficiaries. There are several categories of individuals who are typically entitled to a copy of the will for various reasons. These include the beneficiaries, unnamed legal heirs, the accountant for the estate, the successor trustee if there is a revocable living trust, and tax officials. All beneficiaries named in the will are entitled to receive a copy in order to better understand the nature of their inheritance and how it will be distributed. When beneficiaries are minors, their legal guardians will receive a copy on their behalf.
In some situations, an executor or an estate planning attorney may suspect that an unnamed heir might contest the validity of the will.

In that case, they may decide it is helpful to provide a copy of the will to those heirs in order to shorten the amount of time within which those heirs can formerly file their challenge to the will. The clock starts ticking once they have notice of the provisions of the will. These heirs would include “heirs at law” which are those people who are closely related to the decedent and who would have normally inherited from the decedent had there been no will. Who these individuals are will depend on the relevant laws of each state. They always include a surviving spouse, children, and grandchildren. If an accountant is appointed for the estate, then they must be provided a copy of the will in order to understand the extent of the provisions relating to paying off estate debts. The accountant will also handle the payment of estate and income taxes and other financial transactions needed to fulfill the provisions of the will.

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.

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 its 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 feel the executors are mismanaging the estate, you also have the right to take formal legal action against them.

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.

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.

• Delay obtaining a Grant of Probate
• Delay administering the estate once Probate has been obtained
• Lack of information
• Failure to disclose accounts.
• 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, see your Lawyer immediately.

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. It is an all too common scenario someone is aware that a friend or relative who passed away made a provision for them in their Will, but they are completely in the dark about precisely what they are entitled to receive and when they will receive it.

Law allows a beneficiary to compel an inventory and appraisal of estate assets three months after the Will is probated. But remember, the inventory will consist only of estate or “Probate Assets.” Those are assets titled solely in the decedent’s name (as opposed to jointly with one or more other people) that do not pass by beneficiary designation. Assets that pass by beneficiary designation include IRAs, 401(k)s, annuities, life insurance and pensions. They also include bank or brokerage accounts that designate a “Pay-on-Death” or “Transfer-on-Death” beneficiary or beneficiaries. Assets passing outside of the Will are known as “Non-Probate” assets. A year after the Will has been probated; a beneficiary can demand an accounting of each transaction the Personal Representative has engaged in on behalf of the estate. Again, that accounting will relate solely to Probate Assets, not Non-Probate Assets. The accounting can be formal or informal. A formal accounting is filed with the court and subject to an “audit” process by the Surrogate (which carries a fee based on the amount of assets in the estate) and then subject to approval by a Judge. Each beneficiary has the right to object to the accounting by filing what are known as “Exceptions” to the accounting with the court. An informal accounting is not filed with the Court and serves as an alternative where all beneficiaries are willing to accept it. In extreme circumstances, a Personal Representative’s conduct may rise to the level that warrants his or her removal in that circumstance, a new Personal Representative would be appointed by the court.

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When you need legal help with a will or probate in Utah, please call Ascent Law LLC for your free consultation (801) 676-5506. We want to help you.

Michael R. Anderson, JD

Ascent Law LLC
8833 S. Redwood Road, Suite C
West Jordan, Utah
84088 United States

Telephone: (801) 676-5506
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About the Author

People who want a lot of Bull go to a Butcher. People who want results navigating a complex legal field go to a Lawyer that they can trust. That’s where I come in. I am Michael Anderson, an Attorney in the Salt Lake area focusing on the needs of the Average Joe wanting a better life for him and his family. I’m the Lawyer you can trust. I grew up in Utah and love it here. I am a Father to three, a Husband to one, and an Entrepreneur. I understand the feelings of joy each of those roles bring, and I understand the feeling of disappointment, fear, and regret when things go wrong. I attended the University of Utah where I received a B.A. degree in 2010 and a J.D. in 2014. I have focused my practice in Wills, Trusts, Real Estate, and Business Law. I love the thrill of helping clients secure their future, leaving a real legacy to their children. Unfortunately when problems arise with families. I also practice Family Law, with a focus on keeping relationships between the soon to be Ex’s civil for the benefit of their children and allowing both to walk away quickly with their heads held high. Before you worry too much about losing everything that you have worked for, before you permit yourself to be bullied by your soon to be ex, before you shed one more tear in silence, call me. I’m the Lawyer you can trust.