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Are Your Rights as a Beneficiary Being Protected?

** This article has been revised from its original version which was published on May 4, 2016.

As a beneficiary of an estate or trust you have a legal right to information, even if you were not named as the fiduciary (executor or trustee of an estate).

If you are a beneficiary who is not getting answers about the status of a trust or estate, it’s important to know that you have options. You can hire a New York estate lawyer to represent you, and they can communicate with the attorney who represents the fiduciary.

The attorneys can communicate with requests for trust or estate information such as:

  • Bank statements
  • Real estate records
  • A list of assets
  • Expenses paid
  • Documentation of disbursements

Beneficiaries often hire a New York estate lawyer because they have unsuccessfully attempted to get information from the executor or trustee of an estate, and wish to have their questions and concerns addressed. Someone has passed away; they know that they are a beneficiary, but they are not sure of anything else. If the fiduciary refers you to their attorney, be aware they don’t represent you and aren’t obligated to advocate for your rights when settling an estate.

How an Estate Attorney Represents a Beneficiary

An attorney who represents your rights as a beneficiary can communicate with the fiduciary’s attorney, explain your concerns, and request information or an informal accounting.

An informal accounting would include a list of the assets and expenses, as well as a status of the administration of the trust or estate. After the beneficiaries review the informal accounting, they can make additional inquiries about the assets of the trust or estate, and request additional items. They may want proof of expenditures, such as taxes that were paid, etc.

Compulsory Accounting and Litigation

If your request for an informal accounting is ignored or not properly addressed, your estate planning attorney can petition the court for a compulsory accounting.

By bringing a petition for compulsory accounting, the fiduciary is compelled to cooperate within a given timeframe. Although sometimes this is necessary, it is not an ideal situation. Once you petition the court, you are involved in litigation, which can be very time-consuming and expensive.

After beneficiaries have an opportunity to review the accounting, if they are not satisfied, they can demand discovery.

The Discovery Process

In discovery, the fiduciary can be ordered to show bank statements, brokerage statements, tax returns, and additional documentation needed to verify and explain the accounting.

If discovery does not bring resolution, the next step is to demand a deposition—which will give your attorney the opportunity to question the fiduciary about their actions. Litigation is not fun, and can ultimately lead to a significant reduction of the estate or trust assets because of the legal fees involved in settling an estate.

We advise our clients to try to communicate with the fiduciary to obtain the information requested prior to involving the court. It is preferable to allow the fiduciary a reasonable amount of time and opportunity to provide the information requested and settle the estate or trust informally. Although it may be tempting to give in to passion, it is usually economically beneficial for all parties to be reasonable in their requests and transparent in the information provided.

We also recommend that beneficiaries consult with an attorney before signing any documents that may waive a legal right. As a beneficiary, you have rights, and you should ensure that those rights are protected by hiring an experienced estate planning attorney to represent you.

How would you proceed if you were named beneficiary to an estate but unable to get answers from the executor or trustee?

If you are a beneficiary with concerns about communication with a fiduciary of an estate, a New York estate attorney can help. Schedule a consultation to inquire about your rights as a beneficiary. At Russo Law Group, P.C., our experienced attorneys can request the information you need, negotiate, or, if necessary, represent you in court.

Russo Law Group, P.C.
100 Quentin Roosevelt Blvd., Suite 102
Garden City, NY 11530
800-680-1717

This Post Has 12 Comments

  1. I liked what you said about getting an attorney who represents your rights as a beneficiary to communicate with the fiduciary’s attorney and requestion information. My grandpa is getting his affairs in order because he has a terminal illness and my family is going crazy learning about probate law and funeral arrangements. Thank you for the information about how requesting an informal accounting will have assets and expenses added up and ensuring things like taxes are handled first.

  2. I like your tip about requests being ignored. That makes sense considering you want to settle everything in court. I’ll have to consider your tips so that I can properly handle my legal affairs.

  3. We appreciate you stating to hire an attorney who will represent your rights as a beneficiary to communicate with the fiduciary’s attorney and request information. I guess we would hire one soon because my dad needs to create his will as soon as possible. This is a must for him because he just found out that he might have an illness that can make him weaker faster than the normal person, so we need to secure his properties.

  4. It’s cool that the attorneys can work with things like bank statements in your place. One thing that’s important to me is that after I’ve passed, my assets go where I want them to. I’ll see about getting an attorney or lawyer to help me.

  5. My friend told me that after his dad passed away, there has been a lot of problems in his family due to the trust he left. I like how you said that an attorney can be hired to help beneficiaries to be able to access all the information left by the person who passed away. I will suggest to my friend to contact a lawyer so that he can get better advice.

  6. I agree that it es beneficial to hire a trust lawyer because they can represent your rights as a beneficiary. My godfather has a terminal illness, so I know he is looking to hire a probate lawyer. We will be sure to help him hire one so that he can get better advice.

    1. Thank you for leaving a reply on our website.

      It can be very beneficial to hire an attorney if you are the beneficiary. We would act on your behalf to communicate with the fiduciary’s attorney, explain your concerns, and request information or an informal accounting.

      Furthermore, it may be extremely important to seek legal advice from an experienced estate and elder law planning attorney to help ensure your Godfather’s estate is in proper order and his wishes are carried out.

      We can help you and your family. Kindly reach out to our office at 516-683-1717 and I can arrange a meeting with one of our lead attorneys.

      We look forward to speaking with you.

  7. It’s good to know that an attorney can explain your concerns to the fiduciary’s attorney because then you’ll be better off. Good communication is really important, especially for legal things. Maybe I should get an attorney to make sure I’m communicating properly.

  8. I didn’t realize that a good estate lawyer could help to convince a court to help with compulsory accounting which then allows you to review the accounting before possibly demanding discovery. This seems like a really great opportunity to exploit if the will was written during a time of life when a loved one wasn’t really acting like themselves and put down some strange things in their will. That way you can be sure that your family will get everything that they need to take care of funeral costs as well as provide the best ending possible to your loved one’s life.

    1. Compulsory accountings can be a very effective tool to ensure that the fiduciary is honoring his/her responsibility to the beneficiaries. If you or someone you know is concerned that a fiduciary is not honoring his/her responsibilities or need assistance getting answers from the fiduciary as to the trust or estate administration, our firm can help. We would be happy to meet to discuss any specific questions or concerns you have and provide guidance and advice.

  9. I want to make sure that my inheritance is spread out properly. It makes sense that I would want to get a lawyer to help me out with this. They would be able to ensure that I put everything together properly.

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