7 Important Things that Beneficiaries Need to Know


If you have written your own legally binding Will, it’s important that you discuss it with your chosen beneficiaries and let them know where your Will is kept and what they stand to inherit in the event of you passing away to ensure a smooth process when the time finally comes.

Or, if you have been named a beneficiary in a loved one’s Will, there are several things you should be aware of in advance to, again, make sure you avoid any problems and stress later on.

In this guide, we provide 7 factors that beneficiaries need to consider when it comes to using a Will and receiving inheritance.

1. Only the executor can read the Will initially, not the beneficiary(ies)

The person who is the named executor on the Will is the only one legally entitled to look at and read the Will initially.

It’s possible for the beneficiary/beneficiaries to ask the executor to have a copy of the Will, but they are not legally obligated to do this. If a bank or solicitor wants to pass a copy of the Will on to anyone else, they must get permission from the executors first, preferably in writing.

Having said this, it’s good to know that a Will actually becomes a public document when probate has officially been granted by the Court, so you can then submit an application to your nearest Probate Registry and pay a fee to get a copy if you wish.

Bear in mind, though, that if probate is not applicable and probate is not granted by the Court, the Will stays private and the decision to make it public or get a copy made lies with the executor only.

Should the beneficiary have any problems with the executor refusing to provide a copy of the Will, they may wish to see legal advice, but it would be better to try and come to an agreement with them without the need for legal action if possible.

If you want to know more about the role of the executor, you might like our guide: Choosing an Executor for Your Will

2. There is no law or rules stating when the executor should inform the beneficiary

In the UK, there are no laws or rules to say exactly when the executor must let the beneficiary know about the death and the fact that they are named in the Will.

If the executors are professionals, like solicitors, you can rely on them to get in touch with you to let you know about the situation or perhaps they will only need to contact you when you are due your inheritance.

If the executors are not professionals, i.e. they are family members, then they should still inform the beneficiaries of the death and inheritance.

Ideally, the beneficiaries should be informed early on in the process, but if you think that you may be a beneficiary after a death and you haven’t been contacted regarding your inheritance, you may want to seek help from legal services.

3. Where to look if you can’t find the Will

If the beneficiaries and executors know that their deceased loved one left a Will but they’re unable to find it, there are a few different ways of trying to locate it:

  • Look everywhere in the deceased’s property, even in the strangest of places.
  • Ask other family members and the people who witnessed the Will, if you know who they are.
  • Try contacting local solicitor firms.
  • Check with the deceased’s bank.
  • Try searching on the National Will Register or the local Probate Registry

4. A Will can include different types of beneficiaries

The beneficiaries listed in a Will are not always the same and each one will be placed into a certain category depending on the type of inheritance gift they stand to receive.

The different types include:

  • Specific: If a beneficiary has been left a specific gift, such as a painting or certain piece of jewellery, they would not be legally entitled to receive it if it was sold or given to someone else before the person passed away. Additionally, the beneficiary wouldn’t be able to receive another item instead.
  • General: A beneficiary can be left a lump sum of money or a general gift that hasn’t been specified. In this case, they would receive their inheritance from the general collection of assets left from the deceased’s estate. So let’s say the beneficiary stands to inherit £10,000, this money can come from any asset, such as the deceased’s savings, for example, as it was not specified.
  • Residuary: This is where the beneficiary inherits a percentage of the value of the deceased’s estate after all debts have been paid, such as the mortgage, etc.
  • Demonstrative: If the Will states that a beneficiary should receive a specific gift from a specific asset, it is known as a demonstrative gift. For example, a beneficiary may be eligible to receive £10,000 from the deceased’s personal savings account. However, if there was no money left in the personal savings account, the beneficiary would have to receive the money from other assets in the estate instead, which would, in turn, make them a ‘General’ beneficiary.

Should there not be enough money in the deceased’s estate to cover all the gifts listed in the Will, the beneficiaries will lose their inheritance according to this order (as set out by UK law):

  1. Residuary beneficiaries  (first to lose inheritance)
  2. General beneficiaries (second)
  3. Specific and demonstrative beneficiaries (last)

It’s also worth knowing that if the executor(s) of the will dies before the deceased person who wrote the Will, it would fall to the residuary beneficiaries to apply for probate instead.

5. The time it takes for beneficiaries to receive inheritance differs from case to case

If you’re wondering how long it takes for the deceased’s estate to be administered and the assets distributed according to the Will to all beneficiaries, there is, unfortunately, no set time frame and it will differ from case to case, depending on a few factors.

If the estate has some complexities, such as business assets or properties abroad then you should expect things to take longer than usual. If the estate is simple, with just a bank account and bills to close, it’ll be much quicker.

Generally, the process of administering the estate can take up to 6 months to complete, or even 12 months if the estate includes a property that must be sold. 

If the beneficiary stands to receive ‘Specific’ inheritance, this is usually passed on in the early stages of the whole process, while General and Residuary beneficiaries will have to wait for probate to be granted and debts to be paid.

6. Beneficiaries can change parts of the Will after death

A beneficiary may wish to pass some of their inheritance on to someone else, or they may want to alter the Will to lower the amount of inheritance tax (IHT) that is owed.

It is actually possible to do this, provided that all other named beneficiaries agree to this and they won’t be left worse off after the changes.

If a beneficiary wants to change the Will after the person dies, they will need to arrange what’s known as a Deed of Variation, which will allow them to do so legally. This can be a complicated process, so we highly recommend getting legal help if you’re considering this.

7. Beneficiaries may be able to claim back interest on their inheritance

If the Will states that the beneficiary is due to receive an amount of money and it is not given to the beneficiary in one year from the date of the death, they will be able to claim any interest back.

If you need advice on this, please seek legal advice on how to do this.

Have you written your own Will?

If you haven’t made a Will yet and you were to pass away suddenly, you would die intestate which means that your assets will be shared out according to the intestacy rules, and this may not be what you intended.

Without a Will, you could be leaving your loved ones upset and distressed, and your hard-earned assets may end up in the wrong hands!

Making a Will isn’t as daunting and expensive as people may assume; you can start it yourself online today with Wills.Services and you’ll have our team on hand to help answer any questions and check your Will over to ensure it’s legally-binding. Once you get started, you can always save it and come back later if you need a little more time.