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When are Beneficiaries Notified?

By Lane V. Erickson, Idaho Estate Planning Attorney

A written estate plan usually consists of a last will and testament, a durable power of attorney, a living will, and a power of attorney for health care. An estate plan can also include one or more trusts if they are needed. This often happens because the individual creating the estate plan may have minor-aged children, or a child who is disabled. Additionally, the person creating the estate plan may decide they want their money, property, and other assets in their estate to be distributed to several generations of the family over a long period of time. 

An estate plan could be simple, or it could be complex depending on what it is the person wants to accomplish. Regardless of the type or kind of estate plan a person creates, their plan is their personal property. The person creating the estate plan can keep their plan confidential and not reveal it to their family members or loved ones. Because of this, sometimes when a person passes away, their family and loved ones did not even know they had a written plan. 

When a Last Will and Testament is Involved

Hollywood loves to focus on this type of circumstance in tv and movies. I call it the dramatic will reading scene. This is where the family gathers around either in an attorney’s office or somewhere in their home with the attorney being present. The attorney dramatically opens the envelope that has the written will in it and then reads the contents of the will to the family which usually results in gasps and shock at what the decedent did or didn’t do. This may make for a fun scene in a movie but in my experience, this type of thing rarely happens in real life. 

What often does happen is that a family member will have a written will created and not tell anyone. Then that person will pass away. After that, as the family is going through the documents and other belongings of the person they usually stumble across the written will. This really isn’t the ideal way for your family and loved ones to learn about your estate plan.

When this happens, the persons you have identified as your beneficiaries, are required to be notified during the probate process. Idaho statutes require the personal representative who is completing the probate to send a notice or information to heirs and beneficiaries. These individuals have a right to receive a copy of the written will so they can understand what it is they are to receive from the estate. 

When a Trust is Involved

Things could be even more hidden when it comes to the beneficiaries of a trust. Typically, depending on how the trust is set up and how it is being administered, the beneficiaries of the trust are usually not notified until they actually are in an acting position as a beneficiary. In other words, if there are several layers of beneficiaries such as a father, then a son, and then a grandson, only the active level of beneficiaries are required to be notified. Those who are lower down the line, or who are contingent beneficiaries, are usually not required to be notified until they themselves become an active beneficiary. 

Sometimes a person knows they are listed as a beneficiary, but they do not know what their role or position is. This often leads to family fights and disagreements about when and whether the trust should be revealed to the lower level of beneficiaries. 

What We Recommend

While we understand that many times people do want to keep their estate plan confidential, we usually do not recommend this. I am not saying that you have to reveal every detail about your estate plan to those that are around you. Rather, we usually recommend that you contact a few groups of people and let them know about your estate plan. 

The first group of people that you should contact are the individuals that you are nominating for an appointment in your plan. For instance, if you want someone to act as a personal representative of your written will, or as a trustee of your trust, it would be wise for you to talk with this individual and make sure they are both willing and able to do what you want them to do. The reason for this is that no one can be forced into an appointment if they choose not to accept it. 

The second group of people that you should contact usually would be your beneficiaries. Again, it is not necessary that you provide every detail, but letting these people know that there is a written will, or a trust will help them after you pass away. At the very least, we recommend that you provide the name of the attorney or law office that helped you create your estate plan. Then, after your death, your family members and loved ones have a resource they can turn to for help with their questions. 

If you have questions about creating your own estate plan, or how or when you should notify the beneficiaries of your plan, we can help. We have assisted numerous clients in the creation of their own customized estate plans and have helped them with the administration of their plans both while they are alive and after they have passed away. We are confident that we can help you too! 

Enlist an Idaho Estate Planning Attorney to Help You

Our team of Idaho lawyers can help you with any of your estate planning or probate needs. Whether you are seeking to create or review an estate plan for yourself or would like to help a loved one, we are available to discuss your options and answer your questions at an initial free 30-minute consultation. Call us toll free at 877-232-6101 or 208.232.6101 for a free consultation. You can also email us directly at lane@racineolson.com or stop by our office at 201 East Center Street, Pocatello, Idaho 83201. We will answer your questions and help you solve your Idaho estate planning problems.

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