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What Information Are Will Beneficiaries Entitled To?

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Tilly Bailey & Irvine's Probate Solicitors explain what Will beneficiaries are entitled to.

A lot of people are unsure as to whether they are entitled to see a copy of a will under which they benefit, and whether they are permitted so see any other documentation. Someone who is a trustee or personal representative may also be concerned to ensure they are not doing anything wrong by disclosing documentation.

General Position

It is the basic right of a beneficiary to have a will or a trust administered in accordance with the provisions of the relevant document. What information does a beneficiary need and what is a beneficiary entitled to see in order to ensure that this is the case?

  • At the very least, an adult beneficiary is entitled to know of the existence of the will/ trust, and of the nature of his interest under it.
  • The situation is a little unclear in relation to an adult beneficiary with a future interest under a will/ trust (for example, an entitlement upon attaining the age of 21 if the beneficiary in question is only 18 at the time). A sensible approach for trustees is to take reasonable steps to inform the beneficiary of the existence and nature of the interest as soon as reasonably practicable after the interest comes into existence, unless the trustees reasonably believe that the interest is remote and the beneficiary has no reasonable prospect of successfully asserting rights to information.
  • The situation is even more difficult in respect of discretionary trusts (where a trustee has the power to decide who out of a number of beneficiaries benefits). In this scenario, trustees should inform any potential beneficiaries of discretionary trusts  of the existence and nature of their interest.  There is no requirement to inform all potential beneficiaries but those who are real potential candidates for benefit should be advised.

Usually it would be unreasonable for a trustee to refuse to disclose the trust document itself.

A Beneficiary Wants Further Information

If a beneficiary requires further information, or wants copies of any trust documents or accounts, it is up to him to seek those from the trustees. There is no entitlement as of right, but the trustees do have a discretion and should balance whether such disclosure is in the interests of the beneficiaries as a whole.

Consideration should be given to factors such as;

  • If there is a legal reason to refuse (e.g. if a document contains legal advice which is privileged and therefore should not be disclosed);
  • Whether there is a commercial reason to refuse (e.g. commercially sensitive information);
  • If the document is confidential (for example, it might be relevant to one beneficiary but not another);
  • If the request is for an improper purpose (such as challenging the validity of the trust, which would not be in the interests of the beneficiaries as a whole).

However, before refusing disclosure, trustees should consider other reasonable options available to them such as redacting any sensitive information before disclosing it.

As mentioned, it is very much a balancing exercise, and one which has given rise to plenty of case law.

If you are unsure about any of the above and require advice before either requesting disclosure, or providing it, please contact us on 0333 444 4422 or fill in our online enquiry form to discuss.