After being asked by the brother of a woman who had died what he was allowed to know about his late sister’s wishes in the will being dealt with by her husband, we asked expert Louise Igoe, a specialist in inheritance matters and a partner in law firm Lodders, to explain what he and others could access.
Louise Igoe advises: “When someone dies, their solicitor will take instructions from the executor named on the will.
There is no duty on an executor to disclose its terms to the beneficiaries named, before the Grant of Representation has been issued.”
Until the Grant of Representation has been obtained, no-one can be certain the will is valid.
However in practice, where the validity is unlikely to be an issue, the beneficiaries are advised of their interests beforehand subject to any claims.
“Another key element is the Grant of Probate, an order of the court that, when there is a will, confirms the executor has authority to administer the estate,” says Igoe.
“Once the Grant of Probate is issued, the will becomes a public document and available for inspection.
Copies can be obtained from the Probate Registry for a small fee. If the issuing Registry is unknown, application can be made at the Principal Registry.
“So, if a brother has been left something in the will by his sister, the executors or their solicitors will inform him once the Grant of Probate has been obtained.
At this point, he can check the position for himself by requesting a copy of the Will.
“It is possible the brother will have an interest in the sister’s estate if for example, they owned property jointly, or if he was financially dependent on his sister before she died, or perhaps there was a promise of a gift made to the brother by his sister and he relied to his detriment on that promise. In these circumstances, the executors may be bound to honour the sister’s promise.
“The brother’s frustration at not being able to see the will is understandable. However, executors are entitled to decide not to disclose the will at this stage.”
If there is no will the distribution of a deceased’s estate is governed by the intestacy rules in the Administration of Estates Act 1925 (as amended by the Family Provision Act 1966 and Civil Partnership Act 2004), which set out the beneficial entitlements to the estate based upon the relationship to the deceased.
“If the sister in this case hasn’t made a will,” continues Igoe, ” then her husband will inherit all of the estate (if there are no children), or the estate will be shared between the husband and the children. There is no provision in the intestacy rules for a brother to inherit where the deceased was married.”
And she also warns there could be a situation where relatives never know what arrangements have been made.
“There are circumstances where a grant of representation will not be required to deal with the assets in a deceased’s estate which may arise because of the type of asset, it’s value or where property is owned jointly. If one is not required, the will remains private.”