When Should Beneficiaries of a Will be Notified?

If you are listed as the beneficiary in a loved one’s will, you are legally entitled to be notified as to your name in the will. 

While there is no specific legal time limit for this, beneficiaries of a will should be notified promptly, however, probate needs to be applied for within 1 year of the date of death.

If you are not informed promptly and properly as to your entitlement as a beneficiary, the law provides you with a right to access certain information.

How Long After Someone Dies is the Will Read in Australia?

While Hollywood films portray scenarios where friends and family of the deceased gather together for a reading of a will, in Australia, there is no legal requirement for the executor to hold such a proceeding.

This can leave potential beneficiaries wondering if and when they will receive anything from their loved one’s estate, during an already difficult time.

Although there is no official ceremony for the reading of a will in Australia, wills should be read and dealt with within 12 months of the date of the deceased.

Who Contacts Beneficiaries of a Will

The executor should inform you as promptly as possible as to your entitlement under the will.

As there is no legal requirement for the executor to hold a reading of the will in Australia, it can make it difficult for a beneficiary to know what their rights and interests are.

Obtaining documents related to the will often help to put the beneficiaries mind at ease during an already difficult time.

It is an accepted legal principle that the estate documents ‘belong’ to the beneficiaries named in the will or trust, although the person requesting them may have to pay any related administration fees.

In both New South Wales and Queensland, any person named as a beneficiary has the right to obtain a copy of the will. This is usually done by contacting the executor.

The will should help you identify your interests in the estate, however, if it is overly complicated, you should consider engaging the skills and advice of a qualified solicitor with experience in wills and estate law.

Beneficiaries of a Will be Notified

How to Find Out If You Are a Beneficiary in a Will

To find out whether you’re a beneficiary in a will still falls under the executor’s duties of notifying beneficiaries. However, there isn’t a central database to verify will details. Typically, access to this information is granted only to named beneficiaries.

Executor Not Communicating With Beneficiaries

If the executor does not notify a beneficiary of the estate, it means that they are failing in their duties as an executor and there may be legal recourse available to you in the Supreme Court. Here are steps beneficiaries can take:

  1. Legal Notice: A formal letter from a solicitor can sometimes prompt the executor to fulfill their duties. This notice will outline the executor’s obligations and the consequences of failing to meet them.
  2. Court Application: If communication does not improve, beneficiaries have the right to apply to the Supreme Court for intervention. This application can request the court to order the executor to provide an accounting of the estate’s assets and actions taken to date.
  3. Removal and Replacement of the Executor: In cases where the executor is found to be grossly negligent or in breach of their duties, the court has the power to remove them. Another executor can be appointed to manage the estate according to the will’s provisions.

Potential Legal Implications for Executors

Executors failing to communicate with beneficiaries may face several legal implications, including personal liability for losses incurred by the estate due to their inaction or mismanagement. The court can also impose fines and, in extreme cases, criminal charges if fraud is involved.

Preventive Measures and Best Practices

To avoid such disputes, it is advisable for the person drafting the will to clearly outline the executor’s responsibilities and for the appointed executor to understand their duties fully. Regular communication, transparency, and the involvement of a professional estate attorney or manager can help prevent misunderstandings and ensure the smooth administration of the estate.

Further Rights of Beneficiaries

Further rights belonging to beneficiaries of an estate include:

  • To be informed of the expected date they will receive their share of the estate and any delays that may occur
  • If beneficiaries are to receive a legacy, that legacy must be distributed within 12 months of the deceased’s death
  • To be advised of any claim against the estate or if someone is contesting a will that may affect their entitlement to the estate