A person has died. You know that you are named as a beneficiary (a person left money, property or a right by the Will) or you are a close relative (eg. A son or daughter).

Am I entitled to receive a copy of the Will?

A person named as a beneficiary, or a souse, child or parent of the deceased person, is entitled to receive a copy of the latest Will from the person who has the Will, or a copy of the Will. A person named in any earlier Will as a beneficiary is also entitled to a copy of the latest Will.

Who is responsible for making funeral arrangements?

The executor is responsible to ensure that funeral arrangements are made, but it is usual that close family members will be included in the decisions made. If the executor is not a close family member, he or she may leave the funeral arrangements entirely to the family. If there is a dispute the executor’s decision is final. The Will should be referred to in case the deceased gave specific directions about funeral wishes.

What should the executor be telling me?

A beneficiary should receive a summary of the assets and debts of the deceased. Whilst a beneficiary is not entitled to receive “blow-by-blow” updates on progress with the administration of the estate, our practice is to recommend to an executor that beneficiaries be kept informed about progress at intervals.

When the administration is to be finalised, with distribution to the “residuary” beneficiaries (those entitled to receive the balance that is left after debts are paid and specific gifts have been handed out) should receive details of all of the amounts received, and all of the amounts paid out in paying the debts of the deceased, the specific gifts and the expenses of the administration of the estate.

My father has died. He always said I could have his car. Can I just go and take it?

No. The executor controls all assets and his duties include giving out the property of the deceased, according to the Will. If your father said in his Will that he left the car to you, you will be entitled to receive it from the executor. If he didn’t say he left it to you, you won’t be entitled to it.

A close relative has died but he/she never made a Will. What happens?

First thing is no, it doesn’t go to the Government. Well, it would go to the Government, but only if there is no living relative found anywhere on the planet.
The Succession Act sets out a table of who is entitled to the assets of a person who dies without a Will. This is fairly much commonsense, being to a spouse (legal or de facto), with or without children, but if no spouse or children then to family members, in steps according to how close the relationship is (parents first, then brothers and sister, then grandparents etc).

If there’s no Will, who takes charge?

Someone needs to take on the same role and duties as the executor appointed by a Will (see “What is an executor expected to do?). This person is called the Administrator and is usually the person (or one of the persons) entitled to receive the assets. So it could be you. That person applies to the Court for a “Grant of Administration”. The person appointed by the Court is entitled to collect the assets of the deceased, like the executor of a Will does.

How long will it take for the estate administration to be finalised?

How long is that piece of string? It depends of course on what has to be done, but will usually vary from a few months, where there aren’t many assets, to a year or more where the task is more complex, perhaps including real estate and superannuation entitlements, with income tax and capital gains tax matters having to be finalised.

What can I do if I’m not happy with what has been left to me, or I’ve been left out completely?

It is the fact that Wills can be contested in Court (often to the annoyance of people making a Will). There are usually two different types of dispute.

A spouse, child or “dependant” of the deceased person may be dissatisfied (lets say the deceased harboured a grudge against one child and unfairly left him/her out).

There is a concern that the deceased person was influenced by someone close to make a Will that favoured that person. Elderly people have often re-made their Will to favour a carer.

Note: If you found this information helpful you may find the information on the pages
“Information for Executors” and “Questions About Wills” helpful as well.