Being named as a Beneficiary in a Will can be an emotional experience.
Knowing that you are entitled to assets, property or a gift from an Estate can be humbling, rewarding or even surprising. For most, it’s accompanied by feelings of gratitude for being recognised as such an important part of someone’s life.
What you may not realise is that Beneficiaries have certain rights under Australian law. While it’s heartwarming and affirming to be named as a Beneficiary, it’s also important to understand what your legal rights are when dealing with the practicalities of courts, lawyers, Executors and other Beneficiaries of the Will.
What follows is a brief summary of your rights as a Beneficiary in an Australian Will. As inheritance laws vary in Australian states and territories it’s important to consult a legal professional for more advice on your particular situation.
The right to be informed
You are entitled to be notified if a valid Will was left by the person who died.
The right to know you are a Beneficiary
An Executor has an obligation to notify you as a Beneficiary of a Will and provide you with a full list of assets of the Estate, an overview of your expected share and what the estimated date is when you will receive your share.
The right to receive a copy of the Will
As a Beneficiary you are entitled to see and receive a full copy of the Will rather than only general advice about what it contains, although you might be liable for the cost of obtaining the copy.
The right to be notified about any liabilities
You have a right to be made aware of any liabilities that are associated with your share of the Estate including any taxes or costs that might be payable as a result of you being named as a Beneficiary.
The right to be notified about delays
An Executor must let Beneficiaries know if there is likely to be a delay in distributing the assets of an Estate and what the reason for the delay is.
The right to know about legal proceedings, claims and contests
An Executor has an obligation to make you aware as a Beneficiary of any legal proceedings or claims against the Will maker that were current when they died and will continue despite their death.
In addition, you are entitled to know about any claims or contests on the Estate that could alter your share of the Estate or the way distributions are made.
The right to receive your distribution within a specified time
You have a right to receive your distribution as a Beneficiary in a reasonable amount of time. This is usually 12 months after the Will maker has died unless there is a provision in the Will that specifies an alternative period.
The right to receive a Statement of Distribution
Each Beneficiary is entitled to get a “Statement of Distribution” from the Executor showing exactly how their share of the Estate was calculated and how the assets of the Estate have been dealt with.
If you believe you are entitled to a larger share of an Estate you can make a claim to the court on the basis that the Will maker had an obligation to you, and failed to provide adequately for you.
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