Wills: disclosing information

The issue of information disclosure surrounding a Will can be a tricky one, both for beneficiaries and for the trustee or personal representative. On the one hand beneficiaries are entitled to certain information. And on the other, the disclosure of too much information could put a trustee in a difficult position. So, what exactly is a beneficiary entitled to see when it comes to the Will?

What is a beneficiary entitled to?

The most basic right of the beneficiary is created by the Will itself. When they are named in a Will the beneficiary then has a right to have the Will administered in the way that is required by that document. Of course, some beneficiaries may not know that they have been named in a Will and many others will have no information on specific bequests to check against. So, at the most basic level, the beneficiary of a Will is entitled to:

1. Be told that they are the beneficiary of the Will, and

2. Be informed of the nature of their interest under the Will

What about further information?

On the whole, beneficiaries don’t have a right to simply demand information or documents, such as relevant accounts. The key factor to bear in mind is whether disclosing the information or documents that have been requested will be to the benefit of the beneficiaries as a whole (if there’s more than one). Trustees will usually have the discretion to provide requested information or documents if they believe that this is in the right interests. For most trustees this will involve asking a number of key questions:

·         Is there a commercial reason not to disclose the information? For example, it may be commercially sensitive data. If this is the case then sometimes it may be possible to black out the sensitive parts of the document via redaction.

·         Are there any confidentiality issues? For example, the information requested might relate to one beneficiary but not another. Confidentiality is a difficult obstacle and one that most trustees will try to steer clear of.

·         Would disclosing the information or document create a legal problem? For example, if the information in question is subject to legal privilege it should not be disclosed and to do so would put the trustees in difficulty.

·         What’s the motivation for the request for information or documents? It’s not always simple to establish this. However, if it’s clear that the reason for the request is to find a way to challenge the Will then it’s unlikely that it would be in the interests of the other beneficiaries for the trustees to comply with it.

If you’re a beneficiary under a Will and you believe that information or documents you’d like to see are being unfairly withheld then there is every chance that court action could give you access. If, on the other hand, you’re in the process of drafting your Will, this particular issue shows just how important it is to choose your trustees carefully and to have the Will drafted by a professional.