When you are the beneficiary of an estate you may be entitled to money or property. It can be frustrating to spend time waiting for what you were promised. You may be confronted with an avalanche of confusing paperwork and requests for waivers and consents to a myriad of documents. You may also experience tension and conflict with personal representatives, other beneficiaries, or trustees.
How can you be sure you receive everything you are entitled to and in a timely fashion? What are your rights as a beneficiary?
Rights Regarding Personal Representatives
One of the first steps in probate is the appointment of a personal representative. The personal representative marshals the assets, notifies and pays creditors (if any) and estate expenses and then distributes the estate based on the written Will a person left behind, or in cases where the decedent did not have a Will, based upon the intestacy statutes. They have a highly important (perhaps the most important) role in providing you with your inheritance.
In the case of a testate estate, you have the right to know as soon as a personal representative is named. The personal representative is required to serve you with a Notice of Administration. In intestate estates, the person or persons who are entitled to the majority of the estate can select the personal representative.
If you are concerned that someone you believe is unqualified will be appointed personal representative, or, if you believe your loved one was coerced into executing a Will and you plan to fight it, then you can file a written notice with the probate clerk called a “caveat.” You can also file a caveat to prevent the administration of an estate without you receiving notice. When a caveat is filed by an interested party, other than a creditor, the court may not admit a Will to probate or appoint a personal representative until notice is served on that interested party. A caveat can be filed before or after the death of the individual in question.
If you are the beneficiary of an estate and you receive papers in the mail informing you of the appointment of a personal representative, you have to act quickly to protect your interests. In most cases, you only have a short period of time to object to the appointment of the personal representative or the admission of a Will. An experienced probate attorney can assist you with the process and protect your rights as an heir.
Even if you are not contesting the Will or objecting to the appointment of the personal representative, you may still need guidance during the administration of your loved one’s estate. Florida law protects a beneficiary by providing he or she with the following rights:
- Right to notice of resignation/disqualification of personal representative;
- Right to petition for removal of personal representative;
- Right to contest transactions affected by personal representative’s conflict of interest;
- Right to petition for review of personal representative’s compensation or compensation of his/her attorney; and
- Right to an Inventory and Accounting of the assets and expenditures of the Estate
Inventory and Accounting
During the estate administration, the personal representative is required to keep the beneficiaries informed through certain financial disclosures. The first of these that you will receive as a beneficiary is an Inventory of the decedent’s assets. As to any specific asset listed on the Inventory, you have the right to request a written explanation of how the personal representative arrived at the value. A probate attorney can assist you in examining an Inventory and ensuring that it is fair and accurate.
Creditors of the Decedent
The personal representative has to a duty to the beneficiaries of the estate, but also holds a duty to creditors of the decedent’s estate. The personal representative is required to address potential creditors of the decedent’s estate before distributions to the beneficiaries are made.
Right to Timely Acquisition of Inheritance
Probate is often time-consuming, and beneficiaries will not receive their inheritance until the estate is fully administered and creditors are paid. However, this does not mean, that beneficiaries should have to wait years until they get their inheritance.
Throughout the process, beneficiaries have the right to request notice of further proceedings, so they can keep track of the administration’s timeline. They should always be able to access and understand the length of the probate process.
The best way to ensure your inheritance is timely received and you are kept informed of the process is to work with an experienced Florida probate attorney.