Were You Named a Beneficiary? Understand Your Rights

July 20, 2019

A woman with her estate lawyer talking together.

If you have had a loved one pass away recently, you may know (or received a notice in the mail) that you are a beneficiary of their estate. This simply means that you are a natural heir and/or have been named in the Will or Trust as someone who is set to receive some (or even all) assets from the estate or Trust. In many cases a beneficiary will be a natural heir (someone biologically related to or adopted by the deceased), but that is not always the case. Whether you are an heir or not, you need to understand your rights as a beneficiary so you can ensure your loved one’s wishes are honored by the executor or trustee, that the executor or trustee acts promptly and you receive anything that you are entitled to within a reasonably short time. 

Request an Accounting of the Estate

If you are a beneficiary, one important right that you have is to information about what the executor or trustee is doing and to receive an accounting of the estate or trust from them. In accounting is a full inventory list of all the estate assets on hand at the date of death, income and expenses, gains and losses during the time the accounting was for (usually one year at a time) and the assets on hand at the close of the accounting. The accounting shows the financial stewardship of the executor or trustee and is often necessary if you feel that the executor or other parties are hiding certain assets, or otherwise being dishonest. When our beneficiary clients are not receiving the information from the executor or trustee they are entitled to, we request an accounting. If the executor or trustee fails to provide the accounting within a reasonable time, we request the court to order the executor or trustee to provide the accounting and then it must be produced, filed in the court and approved by the court which is a powerful tool to force negligent or dishonest executors and trustees to straighten up. 

Timely Distribution and Survivorship Requirements

Dealing with probate court and managing trusts can become quite complicated and time-consuming. The executor of an estate or trustee of a trust is obligated to work in the best interests of the estate itself and the beneficiaries. Some executors or trustees struggle to get their jobs done in a timely fashion. Others actively work to slow down the process to try and prevent a beneficiary from receiving the inheritance they are entitled to. You have the right to demand that steps are taken in a reasonable timeframe after the death of a loved one. If your loved one’s Will or Trust provides that you must survive to the date of distribution to inherit, (as opposed to surviving after the date of death of the loved one) and the executor’s or trustee’s actions slow distribution down you could be in the very awkward position of losing your share due to the delay. In California, there is not a set time after someone dies for an executor or trustee to complete their work and distribute the estate. It is fact-specific on a case by case basis and it’s worth engaging your trust and estate lawyer to help understand whether your share vests after the deceased died, or upon distribution. There are California cases that have considered this situation and absent some extenuating circumstances an executor or trustee should wrap up their work within about a year to 18 months after the deceased died.

We are Here for You

Estate and trust law is often very complicated. In addition to having to deal with the legal aspects of the situation, you will also have to work through the often-challenging emotional aspects of grief while dealing with family and friends in a business and financial context. To help you navigate this difficult time period, take pressure off the family dynamics and ensure everything goes as smoothly as possible, it is helpful to have an attorney that is trained and experienced in these specific areas to represent your interests. At Lawvex, we are a business, trust and estates law firm. We do not do personal injury, bankruptcy, or criminal law. We stay in our lane and work hard to be niche experts in our field. We also live out our values of speed, efficiency, education, transparency and compassion. We recently brought in a licensed marriage and family therapist for an educational session on the stages of grief and how we can better understand and connect with our clients who are often in the grieving process. Please contact Lawvex to schedule a free consultation with a compassionate and experienced trust and estate attorney right away.