How to find out if you have been left something in a will

If someone you know has died and you have good reason to believe you have been left something in their will, how do you find out if that is indeed the case?

Naturally, if you believe you are the beneficiary of a will, you will want to know what you have inherited and how that inheritance will arrive in your possession. The first step though, is finding out if a will exists.

How do you find out if someone has made a will?

In England and Wales, you can search probate records, presuming that the grant of probate has been issued. Until probate is granted, a will is a private possession (unless you’re the Monarch) and once the probate court declares the will valid, then the rightful heirs need to be notified within three months. Ideally, they should be alerted before then.
When a grant of probate has been issued, wills become public documents and anybody can apply for a copy of it, which is obviously a good place to start if you believe yourself to be the beneficiary of a will.
However, if an application for probate has not been made, then it can be difficult to acquire a copy, though in such circumstances, personal representatives can send copies of the will to those people who are the main beneficiaries of the estate.

How to find out if a will exists

If a person died within the last six months, the grant of probate may not have been issued yet. At present, there are ongoing delays to the issuing of grants of probate, and if you are trying to find out if a will exists, this can be frustrating.

If you know who the executors to an estate are, then you can ask them if you are the beneficiary of a will, what you have been left and how this will come into your possession. The person/persons acting as executors or administrators to an estate will often contact beneficiaries as soon as possible. This is partly to prevent confusion and also in case anyone feels they have not been provided for adequately and they wish to make a claim on the estate.

Sometimes, contact with the beneficiaries of a will can be delayed – there may be questions over its validity or if probate is required or the executor may have difficulties in getting hold of people.

Does the beneficiary of a will have legal rights?

Heirs only have legal rights over their share of the inheritance once the estate has been distributed. However, you do have the right to information before then and should be kept up to date with the estate’s administration. The executor of an estate must keep accounts and be ready to show them is asked.
In addition, if you feel the executor of an estate is mismanaging its administration, then you have the right to take formal legal action against them. Mismanagement can include being dishonest or reckless with the estate’s funds, selling property under its market value, paying the beneficiaries before settling outstanding debts and the failure to disclose accounts.

How long will it take to receive my share of an estate?

While your mileage may vary, you can expect it to take between one to two years before everything is settled, depending on the size and complexity of the estate. Any estate that involves foreign assets will take much longer to distribute.


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