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How Long Does a Beneficiary Have to Sign a Release?

If you’re the beneficiary of a will you may be surprised to learn that the executor of the estate is likely to ask you to sign a release or waiver form before they let you have your inheritance.

Being asked to sign a release often causes beneficiaries some anxiety. Here is everything you need to know about releases in Canadian wills and estate cases.

Do beneficiaries have to sign an indemnity?

You do not have to sign said release, and the executor is supposed to inform you of that when they ask you to sign one. This can delay your ability to take possession of the inheritance because the executor will then have to pursue approval from the court to approve the account.

Executors want you to sign a release to ensure that they are protected from personal liability for the work they have done executing the estate. It also ensures they won’t have to claw back any assets or distribute them in some new way after they’ve already distributed everything there is to be distributed.

The release is a confirmation that you agree with their work and the accounting they have done on the estate to date. As an heir, you do have the right to receive an accounting of the executor’s actions from the time they began administering the estate.

This accounting should include:

  • A record of fees and other costs paid out of the estate, including the fees that the executor may charge to the estate for their own services, and legal fees.
  • A record of debts paid out of the estate.
  • A tax clearance certificate from the Canadian Revenue Agency (CRA), which confirms that the estate has paid all tax, interest, and penalties owed.

When should you opt out of signing the release?

In general, you should only refuse to sign the release if you have specific concerns about the estate. You will raise these concerns with the court when the trustee tries to have the accounts approved by the court.

For example, if the executor is unable to produce a tax clearance certificate and you suspect the amount of tax held was insufficient then it would be wise to opt out of indemnifying the executor so that they may still be held personally accountable for the deficiency.

What happens if a beneficiary won’t sign the release?

The executor must have their accounts approved by the Court. This can mean a delay in receiving your inheritance. In addition, you will keep all the other heirs from receiving their inheritance until the matter is resolved in the courts. In some cases, it may be appropriate to simply ask the executor your question and see if they can produce receipts or documents that satisfy you prior to pushing the matter on to the courts.

On the other hand, if you intend to contest the will or question the way assets were distributed you absolutely do not want to sign a release.

In general, it’s best to consult with a wills and estates attorney before either opting to sign the release or opting out of doing so.

How long does a beneficiary have to claim an inheritance?

There’s no specific time limit. If the beneficiary can’t be found at all the funds will eventually go to Alberta’s provincial treasurer. If the same beneficiary is found later they can receive the money later.

The executor must make a reasonable effort to locate and notify all beneficiaries within six months of becoming the estate’s executor.

How do you know if someone left you money after death?

Usually the executor will inform you via written notice. The notice should even contain facts about the estate, such as the existence of assets and liabilities. It can take weeks to receive this notice.

There may not be any kind of an official reading of the will. They are not required by law and they aren’t always feasible. People have been conditioned by television to expect them, but the lack of one is not a problem, nor is it a sign that your executor is not doing what they are supposed to be doing.

If you have not received notice after a reasonable period of time you can write the executor and ask if you were a beneficiary. It’s good to put this question in writing in case you need to challenge the will later. You can also request a copy of the will, and you can have the will evaluated by a lawyer to find out what your rights are.

When can an executor release funds?

An executor may only release funds after creditors have been paid. This includes the CRA, who will give the executor a certificate of release when all taxes, interest, and fees have been properly paid by the estate.

What happens when you inherit money?

Eventually the executor will write you a check or wire funds into your account. They typically do this after probate, after paying creditors, and after the release is signed or the court has approved their proposed disbursements.

What can I do if my relative has left me out of the will?

Certain relatives may challenge a will in Alberta. You will need to send a demand letter to the executor notifying them that you intend to challenge the will. It is usually smarter to contest the will prior to probate.

If you are the spouse or child of the decedent then certain laws do protect your interest in the estate. The law requires willmakers to provide adequate support to certain protected family members. Contact an estate planning attorney as soon as possible to get help with this process.

Need help claiming your inheritance?

Our wills and estates attorneys have decades of experience. We can help you with any issue that might arise in regards to your loved one’s death. Please call (780) 474-7777 to schedule an appointment. We’ll help you protect your inheritance, and your loved one’s legacy.

About Donald I.M. Outerbridge

Donald became the Executive Director of Merchant Law Group LLP starting in 1993, nearly 30 years ago. His experience managing law firms at various levels and in multiple provinces across Canada goes back even further to 1981.

Please note: The information provided on this website is Not Legal Advice. The information may or may not be accurate. The information is for discussion purposes only. Reliance upon any information provided would not be grounds to advance a claim against Merchant Law for providing any advice. In order to get a formal legal opinion upon which you may rely about any specific fact scenario, you would have to first retain the services of a lawyer and request a formal legal opinion.