The rules for distribution notification depend upon a number of factors: is there a will or are the estate assets being distributed outside of probate? What if there’s no will?
If a person dies with a will, their will must go to probate court to prove that the document is valid. In that case, beneficiaries are to be notified no later than three months after the will is accepted for probate. If there’s no will, distribution of the assets is done by the court, according to the laws of the state.
An Investopedia article from last month asks, “When Are Beneficiaries of a Will Notified?” The article explains that in situations where the assets are structured to avoid probate (like setting up joint tenancy or making an assets payable upon death), there are no specific notification requirements.
Since probated wills are public record, when there are assets subject to probate and the will is filed with the probate court, anyone who thinks he or she may be a beneficiary is entitled to look at the will at the courthouse.
Probate is the legal process of proving that a will is valid and is administered by a probate judge. The court examines the will and directs the executor to gather the deceased’s assets and distribute them to the heirs, according to the instructions in the will.
Once the probate court says the will is valid, all beneficiaries are required to be notified within three months (in many states), but notification typically will happen a lot sooner.
Many county courthouses have a department called “Register of Wills,” where probated wills may be viewed.
It is important to understand that probate isn’t required in all circumstances. If the decedent has assets below a certain threshold (determined by the specific state), probate may not be necessary.
An estate planning attorney can help the family eliminate these kinds of concerns, by having a family meeting during the course of creating the estate plan. Conversations with family members can be guided to address how beneficiary notifications take place and along with other important discussions.
Reference: Investopedia (June 18, 2019) “When Are Beneficiaries of a Will Notified?”