When can a beneficiary ask about money from a will?

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Q. My minor son inherited stocks and bonds in his great uncle’s will. Yet it has been a year with no knowledge of the financials from his aunt — his mother’s sister — who is the executrix. At what point am I allowed to request financials of the estate on behalf of my son?
— Trying to work it out

A. Condolences on the passing of your son’s great uncle.

There are rules to be aware of here.

Absent special circumstances, a personal representative will not be required to account with respect to estate assets until the expiration of one year after he or she has been appointed as the estate representative, said Catherine Romania, an estate planning attorney with Witman Stadtmauer in Florham Park.

In the case of an executor, that is the date the will was probated and letters testamentary were issued, she said.

Meanwhile, a copy of the will should have been provided or may be obtained from the office of the surrogate, she said.

“If a trust has been set up under the will for the benefit of your son, the assets will not be paid out directly but will be paid to the named trustee to hold for the benefit of your son,” Romania said. “If no trust is established, the assets will be paid to the parent or legal guardian — some financial institutions may even require a parent to be appointed the legal guardian by the surrogate.”

Depending on the complexities of the estate and whether federal estate tax or New Jersey inheritance tax is due — as it would be for gifts made by a great uncle to his great nephew — an estate may take over a year to administer and to obtain the necessary New Jersey tax waivers to allow distribution to the beneficiaries, she said.

“If it has been a year, inquiry of the executor or the attorney for the estate into the status and anticipated distribution date is both acceptable and should be anticipated in most administrations,” Romania said.

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This story was originally published on Nov. 3, 2023.

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