Rights of Beneficiaries under a Will
So you are named as a beneficiary in a will.
What rights do you have?
Good question. And the best way to answer this question is to first explain the type of relationship that a beneficiary and executor of a will are in.
An executor and beneficiary are in “a fiduciary relationship” with each other. This means the executor owes certain duties and obligations to the beneficiary, which essentially revolve around the executor acting in the best interests of a beneficiary.
The executor must place the beneficiaries’ interests ahead of their own, must not use their position for personal gain, and must act with the utmost due care, diligence and honesty to the beneficiaries.
Failure of an executor to act appropriately, can result in a breach of their duty, and is a very serious matter.
It is predominantly because of this important fiduciary relationship that a beneficiary holds various rights and abilities.
Most importantly, a beneficiary should be entitled to information about the deceased’s estate that is relevant to what they may be inheriting.
Some specific rights and abilities of beneficiaries include the following:
- To compel an executor to obtain a grant of probate;
- To access certain information, such as a copy of the will, details of assets and liabilities, details of legal fees, and details of accounts and records relating to the beneficiaries’ inheritance;
- To be paid interest on a pecuniary legacy (ie. a gift of a specific sum of money in a will) if not paid in full after one year of the deceased’s death, unless the will specifies otherwise; and
- To apply to the Court for an order directing the executor to provide particulars of the assets and liabilities of the estate and records relating to administration of the estate.[i]
Beneficiaries may also be able take action against an executor and complain to the Court if an executor:
- Does not act diligently or causes unreasonable delay;
- Deliberately or negligently causes wasting of an estate;
- Uses estate assets to pay for their own personal liabilities;
- Deals with estate assets other than as authorised by the will, law, or agreement;
- Fails to act honestly and in good faith; or
- Fails to call in a debt owing to the estate.
If you are a beneficiary and feel left in the dark or improperly treated, contact our experienced Will & Estate lawyers team at Turner Freeman to discuss about any estate administration matters. We regularly act for beneficiaries and would be glad to assist you.
[i] See rule 81 of the Probate Rules 2015 (SA) and section 84B of the Trustee Act 1936 (SA).