Receiving an inheritance
First published 23 October 2017 • Updated 17 December 2018
If you’ve received an inheritance or have been named as a beneficiary in a will, you’ll need to think about what comes next. Questions to consider immediately might be:
- How much will I inherit?
- How soon will I inherit?
- Will I have to pay inheritance tax?
- Should I invest the money?
- If I'm inheriting property, should I sell it or keep it?
- What if I inherit a share of a property? How can I access my share?
How soon will I inherit?
You won’t receive your inheritance as soon as the person dies – it can take up to a year for everything to be sorted out. This process is called probate and will take longer if there is a large estate, a more detailed will or other complicating circumstances. Even when things are straightforward, you should expect to wait at least six months.
If there is inheritance tax (IHT) to pay, this must be settled before probate is granted.
Who makes sure that the will is carried out?
The person responsible for carrying out the wishes in a will is the executor. This may well be you, even if you are also named as a beneficiary. The executor is responsible for gathering, valuing, calculating and distributing the assets of the estate and settling any debts, as well as paying any IHT bill.
If you are executor, you will probably want to engage the help of a solicitor to handle the practical side of things. This will save you a lot of time and will also ensure that all your duties are fulfilled correctly.
What if there is no will?
When someone close to you dies, check with their solicitor or their bank to see if there is a copy of the will available. If no will exists, you should seek advice from your own solicitor and try to obtain authority as an administrator (if you are a blood relative). Otherwise the assets will be distributed as per the Rules of Intestacy.
What if I inherit a property?
A lot of inheritances take the form of a property, such as a family home that passes on to the children. If you are the sole beneficiary, you can usually decide for yourself what to do with it (e.g. sell it, rent it out or live in it yourself). The issue can become trickier if two or more people inherit a single property - all the more so if one of them happens to be living there at the time and doesn't want to move. One option may be to try and sell your share - either to the other owner(s) or to another buyer agreed between you (such as a spouse, partner or tenant in common). Such disputes are usually resolvable between you, but if you run into diffculties then legal advice may become necessary.
What should I do after receiving an inheritance?
This is the biggest question, and the nicest one to think about. If you receive a large sum of money or another large asset, such as a property, you’ll want to make the most of it and ensure the opportunity isn’t wasted.
Financial advice can be extremely useful here. Your adviser can help you consider your windfall in the context of your circumstances and plans as a whole. They can also help you to put the assets to good use. With a property, for instance, they can help you decide whether to sell it now or keep it as an investment, and help you put the practicalities in place. If you inherit a lump sum, they can help you decide how to make it work for you best – in savings, investments and perhaps also your pension.
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