What Rights Do Beneficiaries Have to See Information About an Estate?

When someone dies, their estate has to be administered by their personal representative. This is usually an executor, but if the person didn’t leave a valid Will (or if the Will did not appoint an executor) then the Administration of Estates Act 1925 sets out who can apply to be the personal representative of the estate instead.

Personal representatives have a wide range of legal responsibilities. One of these is the task of keeping the estate accounts. This should include:

  • The full value of the estate.
  • Any income the estate has received during the administration period.
  • Full details of any debts the estate has.
  • Any expenses incurred (including funeral costs, legal fees and tax payments).
  • How the estate has been distributed.
  • What each beneficiary is entitled to.
  • All transactions carried out by the estate.
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Who is entitled to see the estate accounts?

Estate accounts contain a great deal of information, much of which may be relatively sensitive. Unlike a Will, which becomes public record once it is submitted to the Probate Registry, not everyone has the right to see the estate accounts.

In fact, other than the personal representatives of the estate, usually the only other people who have the right to see an estate’s accounts are the residuary beneficiaries of that estate.

What are residuary beneficiaries?

A residuary beneficiary is a beneficiary who has been named as the legal recipient of all assets of an estate that have not been specifically accounted for. This means they will inherit whatever is left from an estate after all debts, expenses and fees have been paid and all other inheritance gifts have been made.

If you have been named as a residuary beneficiary, you are legally entitled to be given a full copy of the estate accounts should you request it. This will enable you to see how the full estate was valued, what payments were made and how your share has been calculated.

Does anyone else have the right to see the accounts?

Other types of beneficiaries (i.e. those who have been left a specific asset or amount) do not generally have the right to see the full estate accounts. However, there are some exceptions to this.

  • If an estate is insolvent and a legacy cannot be paid in full, the beneficiaries of that estate will have a right to see the accounts. This is also true for beneficiaries whose full legacy cannot be paid for other reasons.
  • In the case of an insolvent estate, creditors who cannot be paid in full will also have the right to see the estate accounts.
  • Someone who is bringing a claim against an estate may have the right to request a copy of the estate accounts.
  • If a new personal representative has taken over the estate, they will have the right to see accounts kept by any previous personal representatives.
  • The parents or legal guardians of residuary beneficiaries under eighteen will have the right to see the estate accounts on behalf of their children.

Is there anything you can do if an executor does not provide estate accounts?

Executors and other personal representatives do not have to provide the estate accounts until the process of administration is complete. This can take a long time, especially in more complex estates, so residuary beneficiaries may have to wait for some time in order to receive the final accounts they are entitled to. In the meantime, it may be possible to obtain interim accounts to show the position as it is now, before the estate has been completed.

If the administration has been completed and the personal representatives have not provided a copy of the estate accounts to eligible parties when requested – or if the accounts they are provided with are not clear or complete – there is some legal recourse. In these situations, the person who is entitled to see a copy of the estate accounts can ask the Court to intervene and require the personal representative to produce the information. The Court will usually adjourn such a claim to allow time for the personal representatives to produce accounts. Once produced, it may be that there are elements of the account which require clarification or are contested. If the parties cannot resolve these issues between themselves, the Court will then intervene. In these cases, it is up to the person bringing the claim to show that money is missing from the estate accounts and up to the personal representative to show that all payments made from the estate were rightfully made.

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