Whether you’re writing your own will or settling someone else’s, you’re sure to hear the word ‘beneficiary’ at some point. But what is a beneficiary of a will, who can be one, and what exactly can you expect if you’re a beneficiary? Let’s take a look.

This guide covers:

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What does ‘beneficiary’ mean?

A beneficiary is a person who is set to inherit something from an estate when someone else dies. This might be money, possessions, property or stocks and shares – anything that the person who has died left behind.

That’s a basic beneficiary meaning. Another term you might hear is ‘residuary beneficiary’. This is someone who will recieve all or part of an estate after all debts, taxes and specific gifts have been taken care of.


Can an executor of a will be a beneficiary? Can a trustee?

Yes. It’s pretty common for the executor of the will – who is responsible for making sure that the terms of the will are carried out – to also be one of the main beneficiaries. If someone is a trustee, and looking after a trust on someone else’s behalf, they can also be a beneficiary in their own right.

You cannot be a beneficiary if:

  • You are a witness to the signing of the will.
  • You are found to be criminally responsible for the death of the person.

A pet cannot be named as a beneficiary in a will, as pets are classed as property in UK law. Instead, you might consider nominating a guardian to care for your pet when you no longer can.


If you’re a will beneficiary, what can you expect?

If you’re a beneficiary, meaning someone has died and left you something, the process will be a little like this:

  1. First, the executor will send you a letter explaining the terms of the will and what you are due to receive.
  2. The executor will then contact you with details of when you can expect to receive your inheritance. This can vary depending on the complexity of the estate.
  3. At this point, you can ask for regular updates on when you can expect to receive the inheritance.
  4. Once the will has been logged by the Probate Office, which is a government registry, it will become public and you can read it in full.
  5. You should eventually receive your inheritance, but be prepared to wait: the estate administration process usually takes between nine and twelve months.
  6. You may need to approve and sign paperwork for the estate accounts, and will need to sign a receipt after receiving your inheritance from the estate.
  7. You may need to pay income tax on that inheritance. You can find out if you’ll need to pay income tax here.


What happens if a beneficiary of a will is deceased?

If a will beneficiary dies before the estate is settled, there might be a clause in the will that explains what should happen. For example, the will might state that if a beneficiary dies, their portion should be passed to a certain individual. If no such clause exists, the inheritance becomes part of the beneficiary’s estate.


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