It is completely natural to have questions when you find out you will benefit from the estate of a family member or loved one who has died, especially as it often comes at an incredibly difficult time, when you are mourning the loss of someone close to you.
We have pulled together a wide range of information and resources for anyone who has discovered they are a beneficiary of an estate, to help you understand what it means to be a beneficiary, how the probate process works and what rights you have.
At a time when you are most vulnerable, our expert probate and contentious probate lawyers can help explain the often complex legal rules (and jargon) which govern estate administration, and the implications of being a beneficiary.
What is a beneficiary?
A beneficiary is someone who will receive money or any other asset after someone’s death, either under the deceased's will or under the intestacy rules (the legal rules which govern who inherits the assets of someone who dies without a will).
A beneficiary may be left all of a person's estate (everything they own, after payment of debts), a portion of it, a fixed sum or even a chattel (a personal possession). Finding out you are the beneficiary of an estate can raise many questions, most of which you will find answered in our information sheet on inheriting from an estate.
What is the difference between a pecuniary legacy, a specific legacy and the residuary estate?
A pecuniary legacy is a gift of money. For example, a will may contain a gift of £200 to a specific person or organisation, known as a legatee.
A specific legacy is a gift of a specific item, owned by the deceased at their death. For example, the will may include a gift of the deceased’s wedding ring to a specific person, also known as a legatee
The residuary estate consists of those assets remaining after payment of debts, funeral expenses, inheritance tax, administration expenses and any pecuniary legacies and specific legacies. A beneficiary who is entitled to any part of residue is called a residuary beneficiary.
What is a personal representative?
A Personal Representative (PR) is responsible for administering the estate. The PR is called an executor where they are appointed by the will, or an administrator where there is no will or where the will does not appoint executors.
The initial duty of a PR is to ascertain the assets and liabilities of the deceased, to pay any inheritance tax and to apply for a grant of representation which is an authority issued by the court, allowing the PRs to deal with the deceased’s assets. The PRs should also ascertain and take in to account the needs of the beneficiaries of the estate.
Our information sheet Full Estate Administration Service provides an overview of the PR’s role and duties.
Acting as a PR carries a lot of responsibilities and agreeing to act should not be entered into lightly. Not everyone is able or willing to take on the role, and there are alternatives to consider. Further information on the options are set out in our information sheet Power Reserved.
The main touch points for you as a residuary beneficiary
- At the outset you should be contacted to be advised that you are a beneficiary
- Once the grant of representation has been issued you should be contacted to confirm next steps and given an indication of possible timescales to receive any payments
- You should be kept updated if timescales need revising
- There may be discussion about interim distributions and possible indemnities for residuary beneficiaries
- PRs have an obligation to provide estate accounts to the residuary beneficiary to allow for any queries before final distributions are made.
Frequently asked questions for beneficiaries
1. How long will it take to get my inheritance?
The length of time it can take before a beneficiary receives their inheritance can vary greatly. As a first step, the PRs must ascertain the assets and liabilities of the estate and the speed of this depends not only on how complex the estate is, but also how accessible the deceased’s records are. The PRs of the deceased, except in estates of very low value, must then obtain a grant of representation before they can start to collect in the assets and pay the debts. This process has been taking longer during the pandemic, and is likely to take between 4 to 8 weeks once the application has been submitted.
Where the deceased has left businesses, multiple properties, foreign assets or complicated trust arrangements, it is likely to take the PR’s longer to administer the estate, whereas an estate with a few bank accounts and no property can be dealt with more quickly.
Once the grant of representation is obtained and the PRs have taken control of the estate’s assets, legatees can often receive their inheritances, subject to the PRs assessing whether there are any risks of making the payment (such as potential claims against the estate). If the PRs decide to delay payment they should explain the reason for the delay. The PRs may also be able to make interim distributions to the residuary beneficiaries. However, this carries risk for the PRs, details of which are found in our information sheet on personal representatives and the early distribution of estate assets. As a rule, in simple estates the generally accepted timeframe to administer an estate is approximately 18 months, although some estates can take much longer to finalise.
2. Who will be in touch with me, why haven’t I heard from my solicitor?
The PRs are responsible for administering the estate, and may instruct solicitors to help them. That means that the solicitors will be reporting to the PRs, and the PRs should keep beneficiaries updated on the progress of the administration of the estate. If you have any questions about the estate, you should raise them with the PRs in the first instance. If the solicitors are named as the PRs they will keep you updated on the progress of the administration.
3. What if I disagree with a PR or believe they are not administering the estate correctly?
PRs have duties, which they must comply with when administering an estate. If you feel a PR is not acting properly or in a timely manner, as a beneficiary you can take action. You should first communicate your concerns to the PR. If this does not resolve matters there are further steps which can be taken depending on whether the PR has started to administer the estate or whether they have already applied for a grant of probate. If you would like further information please contact our contentious probate team.
4. What can I do if I have not been left as much money as I thought?
If you have been left disappointed by a will you may be able to make a claim on the estate if you have not been adequately provided for. You must be within one of the specified categories of claimants which includes spouses/civil partners, former spouses/civil partners, cohabitees, children, or someone who was being financially maintained immediately before the death.
5. Will my views be taken into account when the PRs are dealing with the disposal of an asset?
The PRs will make all decisions but may seek your view on a particular disposal. This might be for tax mitigation purposes, or to keep you informed of the likely disposal values. Ultimately, the PRs make the final decision but in most cases will be happy to discuss disposals with you.
6. I am a residuary beneficiary – how much does the estate administration cost?
The PRs will enter into a Client Care Agreement (CCL) with their solicitor and detailed within the CCL will be an estimate of costs and what those costs will cover. There may be subsequent reviews to those costs for example, matters may take more time and/or if estate matters become more complex. All invoices will be approved by the PRs. The costs will be detailed in the estate accounts, which are a forensic account of all monies in and out, and which are sent to the residuary beneficiary to review before the estate is finalised.
There are many resources on hand to support you through bereavement. Some of the resources you may find particularly helpful are as follows:
Child Bereavement UK: provides support to parents and children following a bereavement.
0800 028 8840 childbereavementuk.org
Cruse Bereavement Support: Cruse provides bereavement support 0808 808 1677
Your GP: Your GP can help with referrals to local bereavement counselling services and tell you about other support services available in your area.
Marie Curie Telephone Bereavement Support: provides a support line for people bereaved, due to a terminal illness. 0800 090 2309 https://www.mariecurie.org.uk/help/support/bereavement
Samaritans: provide emotional support to anyone in emotional distress or struggling to cope at any time of the day or night. Phone: 116 123 https://www.samaritans.org/
If you require additional advice please contact us on 01892 510000 or leave a message using our 24/7 live chat support on the bottom right of your screen.
More about the team
We are a team of 11 specialist probate lawyers – one of the largest and most experienced in London and the South East, which means your matter will be dealt with effectively, efficiently and there will always be a member of the team available to help.
As a full-service law firm we can draw on our years of expertise to help administer even the most complex estates to provide our clients with peace of mind.
Our accreditations include:
• Most of our team who supervise and manage the preparation of wills are members of The Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP). It has published a Code for Will Preparation in England and Wales and as a firm, we adhere to this code in relation to work we do in connection with wills in this jurisdiction. We are independent and are not part of any other company or group. You can view the code on their website: www.step.org/ or we can send you a copy on request.
• Band 1 in Chambers HNW and The Legal 500
• Listed as one of the top law firms by ePrivateClient
• Kent Business Legal Sector Review 2021 – scored us as number 1 for private client quoting “TSP leads the pack for Private Client once again”
• Lexcel - The practice is accredited by Lexcel for our excellence in legal practice management
• All of our partners are also listed as Citywealth leaders.