A guide for beneficiaries
If someone close to you has died and you’re a beneficiary, here’s what happens next.
When the Public Trustee is the executor and trustee of an estate, we appoint a trust officer to look after the whole process. These are specialists who understand how to handle all types of estates. We also have a team of legal, financial, property, tax and investment professionals to support them.
The trust officer works with the beneficiaries to ensure the will is followed without favour, and in line with the law. They listen to the views of beneficiaries and consult with them on important decisions, offering impartial advice and working to resolve any difficulties to keep things moving.
If there is no will, then the Succession Act 1981 sets out how the estate will be distributed among the next of kin. In this case, we will also research the family tree, locate beneficiaries and determine their entitlement in the estate.
For more information please see Estate Management.
Steps to administering an estate
Reporting the estate
The first step is to locate the will, if there is one, and identify the beneficiaries. We like to meet with the beneficiaries to get details of the deceased, and list all known assets and liabilities.
We will explain what is involved with the administration of the estate and note any issues. We’ll also give an estimate of how long the whole process will take.
We will contact banks, insurers, financial and government agencies and other institutions to identify full details of what the estate owns. We will arrange for assets to be transferred to the estate, and also arrange valuations and appraisals to help beneficiaries decide whether to keep, transfer or sell them.
We will prepare any legal documents needed to obtain administration (probate) in the estate. This includes placing any legal advertisements and dealing with any questions the court may have.
Dealing with the assets
While we ensure the terms of the will are carried out, we also seek your views on the handling of assets. We manage the paperwork, close bank accounts, finalise pensions, household accounts and other outstanding matters. We also ensure any assets held are protected by insurance and managed properly until the estate is settled.
We will collect, sell or transfer assets depending on the terms of the will and take into account the wishes of the beneficiaries. If assets are to be held in trust for a beneficiary, unless the will appoints another person as the trustee, we will manage the assets until the trust ends.
All estate money is held in the Public Trustee of Queensland’s Common Fund where it earns market interest calculated on daily balances.
Paying debts and taxes
Before a final distribution can be made to beneficiaries, we must pay all debts. We will pay the funeral expenses, confirm and pay any debts, and prepare and lodge any tax returns.
The Australian Taxation Office issued a taxation checklist for legal personal representatives. A legal personal representative could potentially be liable to pay any outstanding tax-related liabilities of a deceased person. For further information please refer to Deceased estates | Australian Taxation Office (ato.gov.au).
Distributing the estate
By law, we must wait six months, from the date of death, to allow any eligible people to notify us that they intend to make a claim on the estate. This means that until six months have passed, we cannot start transferring assets or distributing money. In cases of hardship, we can consider an earlier release of funds in certain circumstances as allowed under the law.
If it is a simple estate, once we have gone through these steps, we can start distributing the estate to the beneficiaries. Some assets may take longer to sell or transfer, and in this case we may make some partial payments to beneficiaries before making the final distribution when all assets and claims are settled.
When we’ve completed everything, we will prepare and send you a final statement with all the details of the assets, how they were distributed, debts paid and all costs and expenses.
What do you need to do?
There are some things you can do to help in the process:
- contact us if someone dies leaving a will with us
- provide us with as many details as you can about the deceased, their assets and liabilities and any other relevant paperwork you might have
- let us know what you would like done with your share in the estate, any assets you want transferred to you and any particular requests you might have
- keep us informed of any change in your personal details such as name, address or bank account
- contact us at any time if you have any questions
- respond promptly if we make any requests of you during the administration of the estate.
How long will it take?
By law, we must wait six months, from the date of death, to allow any eligible people to notify us that they intend to make a claim on the estate.
Where there are assets to sell, or other complexities such as a taxation liability or a claim or dispute, then it will take longer.
However, we will:
- discuss with you how long it is expected to take at your first meeting
- provide you with an estimate as part of the estate plan
- keep you fully informed of progress and let you know if there are likely to be any delays.
What will it cost?
The Public Trustee charges a fee-for-service to handle deceased estates. This is based on the number and type of assets and liabilities, and the number of beneficiaries. We do not charge a percentage commission. We have developed an online estimator, for you to obtain an idea of the potential fees and charges for the Public Trustee to administer a deceased estate. We will give you a final fee quote when we have full details of all assets and liabilities.
Find out more about our fees and charges.
What if there is a dispute?
There may be disputes against the estate about who should get what, how assets should be disposed of, or claims against the estate. Sometimes as the executor, we have to decide whether we need to make a claim against another person. Some of these disputes will involve legal action against the estate.
Disputes or other contested claims on the estate will complicate and delay the administration of the estate. Our role is to make sure everyone’s interests are recognised and dealt with fairly and in line with the law.
What if there is a trust?
Sometimes, we need to set up a trust as part of the estate administration. For example, if there are minors entitled to a share in the estate, their share cannot be paid to them until they turn 18, or older as stipulated in the will.
In keeping with the terms of the will or the entitlement in the estate, we handle every aspect of the financial affairs of the trust, from managing property and investing funds, to taking care of the paperwork and legal matters, and advancing money for the beneficiary’s benefit such as covering school fees.
If we are holding money or assets in trust for a beneficiary, we will ask about their needs and consider any requests. We will then work out an appropriate strategy for managing the assets and investments. The trustee has the final responsibility for managing assets and investments and is required by law to act prudently and in the best interests of all beneficiaries.
Find out about charges for managing a trust.
How do I give feedback?
If you have any concerns, please speak to your trust officer. If these concerns remain unresolved, contact the regional manager of your local Public Trustee office.
See more contact options, including complaints.