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If you’ve recently been named as a beneficiary of a will for the first time in your life, you’re probably wondering what you have to do to receive your inheritance. In some cases, beneficiaries don’t even know that they are a beneficiary in the deceased’s will until after the will-writer has passed away. Either way, a beneficiary of a will has a minimal role in the estate administration process. In most cases, the beneficiary can sit back and wait patiently for their inheritance to arrive.
The executor(s) of the will are the people responsible for administering the estate. Once they have finished the administration process, they are able to distribute the estate assets to the beneficiaries as described in the will. Beneficiaries don’t have the contribute to the administration process, and they do not have to pay any money to the executor or any one else to receive their inheritance from the estate. There are a number of inheritance scams where fraudulent people or businesses try to trick people into paying a fee to receive an inheritance that doesn’t actually exist. To reiterate, inheritances never have a fee attached to them and any gift received as part of a will is not subject to income tax.
Unfortunately, sometimes the executor of the will fails to fulfill their duties to the detriment of the beneficiaries. When this happens, the role of the beneficiary expands and beneficiaries are able to take action to ensure that they receive their inheritance in a fair and timely manner.
While beneficiaries have a minimal role to play during estate administration, this doesn’t mean that they are left helpless at the hands of an incompetent executor. When an executor is failing to administer the estate or not properly meeting the responsibilities and duties of an executor, beneficiaries can and should take action. Depending on the executor’s actions or lack thereof, a beneficiary has different legal remedies available to exercise.
Executors typically have a 1-year period from the date of the will-writer’s death to finish the entire estate administration process. This is called the executor’s year. Most motions started by a beneficiary during this time will not be heard by the courts. This is a common law principle so remember that there are exceptions to this rule which can arise.
When an executor fails to administer the estate within the executor’s year, beneficiaries can begin to take action to speed up the process. There are various different types of delays – both reasonable and unreasonable. When the administration is unreasonably delayed, beneficiaries will be able to take legal action. For more information, read our blog on what can be done about slow executors.
In the most extreme scenarios, executors can be removed by the courts. This is a last resort option for courts as it is contrary to the final requests of the will-writer. For more information, read our blog on removing an executor.
Once a will’s executor has finished administering the estate, they must send a detailed account of everything that went into and out of the estate. This is to ensure that the executor didn’t forget about any assets or commit any fraudulent behaviour. Beneficiaries should be extremely careful to look through the details of the account, ensuring that there are no mistakes or errors. If a beneficiary notices a discrepancy, they can begin to take action against the executor.
If a beneficiary notices an estate asset has gone missing, they can force the executor to act, proving to the courts everything that has gone into and out of the estate. For more information, read our blog on forcing an executor to act.
In the more extreme cases, a beneficiary is able to sue the executor on behalf of the estate. Since the beneficiary is not actually in possession of or the legal owner of any piece of the estate yet, they must sue on behalf of the estate. For more information, read our blog on beneficiaries suing on behalf of an estate.
If a beneficiary believes a debt belonging to the estate should be paid that was not, they can file for the courts to order the executor to pay the debt. The beneficiary will not be held liable if they are given their share of the estate and a debt is later realized to have not been paid by the executor. For more information, read our blog on the rights of beneficiaries in terms of debt.
If you’re a beneficiary of a will and are unsure about what you should and shouldn’t do in your situation, contact an experienced estate lawyer today. We will ensure that you receive the inheritance that you’re entitled to.