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Trustees' Duties of Disclosure to Will Beneficiaries

Beneficiaries often have to wait for many years after a person's death to inherit under a will – but to what extent do they have a right to be kept informed of what is being done with the relevant funds in the interim? The High Court gave important guidance on this thorny issue in the context of a charitable gift.

By her will, a woman placed her estate, which was then valued at about £145,000, in trust for the benefit of her son and daughter-in-law during their lifetimes. Upon their deaths, the trust fund was to pass to a number of charities. The daughter-in-law was still alive, so the charities had thus far received nothing from the estate.

However, the charities argued that the executors of the will were obliged to account to them in respect of their management of the trust fund, but had failed to do so. One of the two executors – both of them professionals – was deceased, but the charities launched proceedings against the survivor, claiming full access to trust documents.

The Court noted that it was obviously right that every beneficiary of a will is entitled to an accounting, on demand, of what is being done with an estate in which they have an interest, even where they have no immediate right to possession. However, it did not necessarily follow that all beneficiaries are entitled to all trust documents.

The charities were entitled to such information as would enable them to verify or vindicate their rights as beneficiaries. However, those rights only extended to the capital in the fund to which they would be entitled on the death of the daughter-in-law. She was solely entitled to income from the fund whilst she lived and the charities had no entitlement to information concerning that income.

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