How Long after a Person Dies Will Beneficiaries Be Notified?

07 January 2020

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.

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Beneficiaries of an Estate should be contacted and notified of their entitlement promptly 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 deceased person will have chosen their own Beneficiaries. In their Will, they will say who the Beneficiaries are and give details such as their address at the time that the Will was made (although bear in mind that addresses could have changed since the Will was written).

If there isn't a Will, a set of laws called the Rules of Intestacy will determine who the Beneficiaries are. When someone dies without a Will (called dying 'intestate') then before it can be determined who the Beneficiaries are, the first step is to establish who should be administering the Estate (The 'Administrator'). This will be the person who has the authority to apply for the Grant of Representation and it's likely in these circumstances that they 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.

This person should promptly notify everyone who has an interest in the Estate, advising what their entitlement is, to avoid any confusion later on in the process. This is also a sensible thing to do as some people may be able to make a claim against the Estate. If the Executor or Administrator is aware early on that someone may make a claim because they feel that they have been inadequately provided for, they can make plans accordingly.

It's also important for Beneficiaries to be advised of their entitlement promptly because they can then ask any questions that they may have about the terms of the Will. Even fairly straightforward Estates which need Probate can take several months to complete, and as things become more complex there is even greater likelihood of delays.

Bequests in Wills – Order of Priority

There are different types of bequest (or gift) which can be made in a Will, and if there isn't enough money to go around then different Beneficiaries will lose their entitlement in a fairly strict order of priority:

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 are the recipients of a certain thing (again, 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 held when the deceased died, 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 a 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 Does it Take for Beneficiaries to Receive Inheritance?

Regardless of the type of bequest, there's a lot that will need to be done before inheritance is distributed. This includes obtaining the Grant of Probate, calculating and paying any Inheritance Tax, Income Tax and Capital Gains Tax due, 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 that Probate entails. 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 at your home or workplace 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.

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.

*Probate Consultants are available in England and Wales only for customers using our fixed fee Probate Complete Service.

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

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