How long after a person dies will beneficiaries be notified?

27 July 2021

This will vary depending on whether the deceased person had made a valid will, if probate is required, and the type of bequest that was made in the will.

To find out if probate is required take our online probate questionnaire.

Beneficiaries of an estate should be contacted and notified of their inheritance soon after the death. Under the law of England and Wales, there is no specified timeframe for this, but it should happen early on in the probate process. However, if a beneficiary is missing or cannot be contacted for any reason then this will inevitably delay the time it takes for them to be notified.

Who are the beneficiaries?

A beneficiary is someone who receives an inheritance from a deceased person's estate. If there is a valid will, the person who died will have chosen their own beneficiaries. In their will, they will say who the beneficiaries are and what they want to leave to them. They'll also give details such as their address (although bear in mind that addresses could have changed since the will was written).

If there isn't a will, the rules of intestacy will determine who the beneficiaries are. When someone dies without a will (called dying 'intestate') then before the beneficiaries are identified, the first step is to establish who should be administering the estate (The 'administrator'). It's likely that the administrator would also be a beneficiary of the estate.

In some cases it can take a bit of time to find out exactly who the beneficiaries are. Even if the beneficiaries have all been identified, finding or contacting them still may not be straight forward. To find out what you should do if there's a missing beneficiary, see what happens if a beneficiary can't be found?

Who notifies the beneficiaries?

The person named as the executor in the will (or the administrator if there is no will) is responsible for contacting all of the beneficiaries.

The executor or administrator should notify everyone who is inheriting from the estate as soon as possible and tell them what they're entitled to, to avoid any confusion later on. Some people might be able to make a claim against the estate if they haven't been provided for in the way they'd expected. If the executor or administrator is aware early on that someone might make a claim, they can plan accordingly.

Contacting beneficiaries early on in the process also gives them ample opportunity to ask any questions about the terms of the will.

Bequests in wills – order of priority

There are different types of bequest (or gift) which can be made in a will. If there isn't enough money to go around there's a strict order or priority over which beneficiaries receive their inheritance first:

1. Specific bequests

Beneficiaries of specific bequests receive a specific item which is easily identified and distinguished from the other things that the deceased owned. As it is a gift of a specific item or items, if it is no longer owned by the deceased on the date that they died, it cannot be replaced by something different and the gift would fail.

2. Demonstrative bequests

Beneficiaries of a demonstrative bequest receive a certain thing (either in the form of money or something of equal value) from a defined source. For example, "I leave £10,000 from my Premium Bond holdings to my niece Janet." If the defined source – in this example the Premium Bonds – isn't owned anymore, then the demonstrative bequest becomes a general bequest.

3. General bequests

A recipient of a general bequest receives a gift that is paid out of the general assets of the estate. This means that the gift will come from anything that the deceased has left which is not already earmarked to go to someone else either through a specific or a demonstrative bequest. A general bequest usually takes the form of a cash legacy. For example, "I give £100 to my nephew, John."

4. Residuary bequest

As the name suggests, beneficiaries of Residuary Bequest receive the residue of the estate (what's left over after everything else has been paid out). So the amount that they receive is often determined by how much debt the deceased had and how much has been left in the other bequests. These bequests are often the first to be lost if the estate is smaller than was originally thought.

How long after a person dies will beneficiaries receive inheritance?

Regardless of the type of bequest, there's a lot that needs to be done before inheritance is distributed. This includes obtaining the grant of probate, valuing the estate, collecting in assets, calculating and paying any Inheritance Tax, Income Tax and Capital Gains Tax, and settling any other outstanding debts on the estate.

In many probate cases it might also be necessary to sell estate assets, such as shares or property before money can be distributed to beneficiaries. Sometimes it's possible for interim payments to be made to beneficiaries before the estate administration is complete, but not always.

It's difficult to say precisely how long it will take to obtain a grant of probate and complete the estate administration process. Every estate is different, and complications can arise that cause delays.

If you find that you are a responsible for administering an estate (as an Executor or Administrator) you can instruct a Probate Specialist to help you.

With our probate complete service, we can take care of all the legal, tax and administrative work. We take full responsibility for obtaining the grant of probate, completing all of the Inheritance Tax, Income Tax and Capital Gains Tax paperwork and dealing with HM Revenue & Customs. We will also arrange the sale or transfer of assets and contact all of the beneficiaries on your behalf.

We provide transparent, fixed fee pricing for our probate services, which we'll agree with you up front before any work begins. Our fixed fee can be settled using funds from the estate, and there's nothing to pay up front.

If you have lost a loved one, and you need help with the probate process, call our Probate Advisory team for free initial advice and guidance. We can arrange for one of our experienced Probate Consultants to meet you to discuss the estate of your loved one in more detail, and to provide you with a fixed fee quote for dealing with probate from start to finish. Please note, this service is only available in England and Wales.

Once we have provided you with a written quote for the agreed work to be done that price will not change, unless the original information we are given is shown to be incorrect or circumstances change.

If someone has died and you need help with probate, contact us:

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