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What are a beneficiary's rights?

As a beneficiary you do have a right to remain informed by the estate executor on what the expected timeline is.

Beneficiary getting advice

If your loved one just passed and their estate is going through probate, there’s probably a lot going on in your mind right now. You might be thinking about the funeral, or what’s going to happen to your loved one’s house, or when the probate process will be over. And while you may know that you can expect an inheritance, you may be confused about how involved you’re allowed to be in the probate process or what you can demand of the estate executor. Well, no more need to wonder! These are your rights as a beneficiary:

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The right to remain informed about when you’ll be receiving your inheritance

Settling an estate takes time: Between liquidating assets and getting the final approval of the probate court, it’s not unusual for the settlement process to take anywhere from six months to a year. So don’t be expecting your inheritance immediately after the will gets read.

However, you do have a right to remain informed by the estate executor on what the expected timeline is, and whether they’ve gotten any updates on when a payout can be expected.

The right to know how the estate is being administered

While the estate executor may be in charge of settling the estate, you still have a right to know what they’re doing and how they’re doing it. This means that you have a right to receive a copy of the will to ensure that the executor is acting according to the deceased’s wishes, and you have a right to know how the executor is handling the assets in the estate. So if, for example, an estate executor is planning on selling a piece of real estate, you have the right to know about it, as well as to why they’re doing it (in order to cover debt, for example).

The right to receive a detailed report of the estate’s financial activity

You also have a right to know how the executor is spending the money from the estate. This includes knowing how much the estate is worth to begin with. As a beneficiary, you have the right to request and receive a detailed report of all the expenses, income, and distributions from the estate. You also have a right to review and approve the executor’s fee, which is paid out from the estate.

If you don’t agree with the way an executor has been spending the estate’s money, you’re entitled to raise objections, which will then require the executor to turn over their accounting report to the probate court, which will review it and make an appropriate decision.

The right to request the removal of the executor

If you’re unhappy with the way the estate executor is carrying out their job, you have the right to request that they be removed from their position. You’ll have to appeal to the probate court, which will investigate whether the executor has been acting in the estate’s best interest. However, the court will not remove an executor simply because you disagree with some of their decisions or don’t like the way they act towards you. Only if the court determines that the executor has been acting in a way that goes against the estate’s best interest will the executor be removed.

A note on contesting the will

While good estate planning and a communicative executor should avoid this from happening, occasions where the will is contested do occur. However, not everyone can contest a will. Only a spouse and/or dependent children can contest a will. The only other situation in which a will can be contested is if someone can prove that they were named as a beneficiary in a previous version of the will, and then left out.

Contesting a will is often a convoluted and expensive legal affair, and can lead to a lot of bad blood. Also keep in mind that every state or province may have slightly different laws on who can contest a will.

The best way to ensure a frictionless settlement process is to keep beneficiaries and executors on the same page. An executor should prioritize transparency and frequent communication with beneficiaries to make sure everyone knows what’s going on. An easy way to do this is through ClearEstate’s Beneficiary Portal, which allows beneficiaries to view the progress of the settlement, receive a summary of what assets they’re entitled to, and keep detailed records of all communications.

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