I am a beneficiary of a will. What are my rights as a beneficiary in Ontario estate law? What should I expect from the executor?

Woman signing documents representing Beneficiary of will

Disclaimer: This article discusses Estate Law.  It is intended for the purposes of providing information only and is to be used only for the purposes of guidance. This article is not intended to be relied upon as the giving of legal advice and does not purport to be exhaustive.

We are asked these sorts of questions all the time. Many people are named as beneficiaries in their loved ones’ wills and are not sure what to expect or what they are entitled to. 

Being a beneficiary goes beyond simply inheriting assets; it’s about cherishing the memory of the person who passed and respecting their final decisions. It is a reminder of the trust and connection shared with the departed. 

In Ontario, beneficiaries of an estate are entitled to specific information and have certain rights and duties. Knowing what to expect as a beneficiary can help you navigate the process more smoothly. 

In this article, we will highlight some common questions that may arise. However, speaking to an estate lawyer is the most accurate way to know your rights. You can book a complimentary consultation with our team to have your questions answered. 

What Information is a Beneficiary Entitled to in Ontario?

Beneficiaries have the right to be informed about the estate and its administration. Your rights may include seeing the will, an inventory of the estate’s assets and liabilities and detailed accounting records. Estate trustees must also keep beneficiaries informed about the progress of the estate administration.

What Are Your Rights as a Beneficiary?

As a beneficiary, you have several rights:

Timely Information: You have the right to be informed about the estate’s administration, such as where they are in the probate process.
Fair Treatment: Beneficiaries should be treated fairly and without bias by the executor.
Legal Recourse: If you believe the executor is not fulfilling their duties or there is any mismanagement, you have the right to seek legal recourse. (We will discuss that further below).
Access to Documents: You can request to see the will, estate inventory, and financial records.

These rights are designed to protect beneficiaries and ensure they receive what they are entitled to promptly and fairly.

Do Beneficiaries Have to Perform Certain Duties?

Typically, beneficiaries do not have formal duties. However, you may be asked to provide information for tax purposes or other administrative needs. 

Also, the relationship between beneficiaries and estate trustees (or executors) runs much more smoothly with clear communication and respect. Understand that estate administration can be complex and time-consuming. Patience and cooperation can help facilitate a smoother process.

What Should You Expect from the Estate Trustee (Executor)?

The estate trustee, or executor, plays a crucial role in managing and distributing the estate. It’s important to note that the executor cannot name a beneficiary and does not have the authority to decide what a beneficiary is entitled to—that is determined by the will. They are appointed to administer the estate and ensure the proper processes are followed. 

As a beneficiary, you should expect the executor to:

Act in Good Faith: The executor must act in the best interests of the beneficiaries and the estate. They cannot favor one beneficiary or use estate assets for personal gain.

Communicate Regularly: Expect regular updates about the estate’s progress and any significant developments. The executor cannot withhold vital information or fail to keep beneficiaries informed.

Manage Assets Properly: The executor should handle the estate’s assets responsibly, paying off debts and distributing the remaining assets according to the will. They cannot mismanage or misappropriate estate assets, neglect to pay debts, or deviate from the terms of the will.

Provide Final Accounting: At the end of the administration process, the executor should provide a detailed account of all financial transactions. They cannot fail to account for all assets, expenses, and distributions or provide incomplete or inaccurate financial records.

Understanding these responsibilities can help you set realistic expectations and recognize if the executor is not performing their duties correctly. What if you notice the estate trustee failing in any of these areas? What legal recourse is available to you?  

When should you seek legal recourse? 

There are certain situations where you should consider taking legal action, such as if you suspect the estate trustee is mismanaging the estate or not fulfilling their duties. You may also run into disputes with other beneficiaries and need legal advice. 

At any time that you need clarification on your rights or whether your inheritance is being mismanaged, it is always advisable to speak to a lawyer who focuses on estate law. She will be able to provide clarity and help resolve issues efficiently.

What if the beneficiary is a minor? How is his inheritance protected?

Special considerations apply if a beneficiary or beneficiaries are minors.

A legal guardian or trustee will manage the assets or funds until the child reaches the age of majority. In some cases, the Office of the Children’s Lawyer may oversee the management of the inheritance to ensure it is handled appropriately.

While estate trustees should always keep clear records and communicate effectively, this becomes even more vital when dealing with someone under the age of 18. These measures are in place to protect their interests and ensure their rights are safeguarded until they are old enough to manage these assets themselves.

Legal advice for all of your estate administration needs with Beeksma Law

Being named as a beneficiary in a will is a significant honour that extends beyond inheriting assets. It’s about respecting the wishes and legacy of the deceased and ensuring that their estate is administered with integrity. 

At Beeksma Law, we understand the complexities of estate administration and are here to offer straightforward advice and guidance. Whether you need assistance with probate, understanding your rights, or navigating the estate planning process, our team of experienced estate lawyers is here to help. Reach out to us today to discuss your options and receive the support you need to navigate this journey with confidence.

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