Hearing that you might be the heir or among the heirs to an estate is obviously news everyone would welcome. But how long does it take to notify a beneficiary of an estate once a death occurs?

This varies from case to case, as it will often depend on whether there is a valid will or not. A valid will sets out clearly who benefits from the estate (i.e. the heirs or beneficiaries) and the estate’s executors are obliged to contact heirs as soon as possible.

If the person has died intestate—i.e. without leaving a valid will—then it may take time to identify the rightful heirs, according to the laws of succession in whatever country the person resided in.

Notification delays

If probate is required on an estate (necessary if the estate is of a certain size), this too will delay notification.

If an executor of an estate does not fulfil their obligations, the heirs to an estate have the legal right to either force the person to comply or remove them as executors, though this will need to be decided by the courts.

The executor often chooses to inform the estate’s heirs when they begin the administration of the estate. This can allow heirs to ask questions about the terms of the will and help prevent claims against the estate.

No entitlement to information about other heirs’ entitlement

It also helps beneficiaries who are not sure of what they are entitled to receive. Beneficiaries are not entitled to receive information from the executor about what other beneficiaries are to inherit. The inheritance should be received within a certain amount of time. if there are delays, the executor should inform the beneficiaries of this.

Once probate is granted on an estate, the document becomes public, so the heirs and anyone else can see it and its contents. If an heir wants to see the will before probate has been granted, they can ask the executor but as specified before, the executor has no legal obligation to do so.

Typically, estates are distributed 12 to 18 months after the death of the testator, but it can take longer if the estate is very large, the family situation is complex or there are heirs living abroad who need to be contacted.

Heirs may also need to wait on the sale of a property so that the estate’s true value can be realised.


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