If someone you know has passed away and you have reason to believe they had left you something in their will, you may have concerns as to how you will find out what you have been bequeathed and how it will arrive in your possession. Firstly, if you know who the executors of the will are, ask them. If you are a beneficiary, they will normally tell you though there is no law saying they have to.

If a person you know has recently passed away and you were expecting to have been contacted regarding a possible inheritance, or if you are executing a will and are unsure of your responsibilities with regards to beneficiaries, here are some things you should know…

How Soon after a Person Dies should the Beneficiaries Be Notified?

The person nominated to execute the will or the person acting as Administrator of the Estate (where there is no Will) is responsible for contacting those with an interest in the Estate, notifying them of their entitlement. This should be done as soon as possible to prevent any confusion: if someone feels that they have not been adequately provided for, they can make a claim against the estate. In England and Wales there are no laws stating when contact must be made and the speed at which the beneficiaries will be contacted can vary.

When contact is made can be dependant on a number of reasons including whether the will is valid, if probate is required, and what exactly was left to them. Sometimes an executor will have trouble getting hold of someone which would delay them being notified of their inheritance.

Beneficiaries should also have the chance to examine the terms of the Will and raise any questions they may have.


In the UK, ‘Probate’ is the legal and financial processes involved in dealing with and distributing the assets of a person who has died. It could mean seeking permission to distribute a person’s assets or clear their debts in accordance with their will. A will remains a private document until probate is granted. Once the probate court declares the will as valid, beneficiaries must be notified within three months, though ideally, notification will much sooner.

Probate is not required in all circumstances but is usually required in the UK when the person who died leaves one or more of the following:

  • £15,000 or more (though this depends on which banks and financial institutions are involved).
  • stocks or shares
  • certain insurance policies
  • property / land owned in their name or as ‘tenants in common’

Circumstances in which probate is not needed might include where jointly owned land, property, shares or money are involved which will pass on to the co-owners and/or if they only had savings or premium bonds. Each asset holder will have their own rules about whether probate will be needed to get access to their assets.

Sometimes, if the deceased’s estate is below the Probate threshold, a financial institution can still request that a Grant of Probate is obtained. This is most likely when there is a complex family situation or a large Estate.

If probate is not necessary then the settlement may be handled privately. In this case a copy of the will may be sent to the beneficiaries by the executor or administrator. However, the will remains a private document.

Probate can sometimes prove contentious and experts must get involved to oversee legal procedures.

Probate, Wills and Public Records

When a grant of probate has been issued, a will becomes a public document and anybody can apply for a copy of it.

If no application for probate is made, it becomes difficult for anyone to acquire a copy of a will. The will remains a private document rather than a public one, though in these circumstances, a personal representative may send a copy of the will to the main beneficiaries.

If a person died within the last six months, a grant of probate may not have been issued yet. You should check the online search service regularly to see when it has.

For further information on probate, wills, trusts, Lasting powers of attorney and wealth management, visit willsandprobate.rip.