Legal Process of Benefactors in a Will

By Heather Frances J.D.

When you create a will, you leave directions for your loved ones to follow when distributing your estate. Your benefactors, or beneficiaries, however, don’t receive their inheritances automatically when you pass away. Instead, your estate must go through your state’s probate processes before it can be distributed. Though specific procedures vary among the states, the basic process remains the same in most areas.

When you create a will, you leave directions for your loved ones to follow when distributing your estate. Your benefactors, or beneficiaries, however, don’t receive their inheritances automatically when you pass away. Instead, your estate must go through your state’s probate processes before it can be distributed. Though specific procedures vary among the states, the basic process remains the same in most areas.

Probate and Executors

Probate is a court-supervised process to collect and distribute your assets according to directions in your will. In your will, you can name an executor, or administrator, to manage your estate through the probate process; one of the court’s first steps in probate is to officially appoint this executor, giving him authority over your estate’s affairs. After appointment, the executor must gather your assets, pay your debts and taxes and distribute the remaining assets to your beneficiaries. This process may take several months, so your executor also is charged with managing your property in the meantime.

Protect your loved ones by a legally binding will. Make a Will Online Now

Information to Beneficiaries

Once your executor is officially appointed, he must inform your beneficiaries of his appointment in accordance with your state’s rules. This gives your beneficiaries an opportunity to contest his appointment if they want another executor appointed. The time frame and process for performing these notifications and protests varies by state. Once your beneficiaries are informed, they may be required to respond and provide proof of identity showing that they have a legitimate claim to your assets.

Fiduciary Duties

Executors owe a fiduciary duty to your estate. This duty includes an obligation to your beneficiaries to preserve your assets until distribution. For example, if your home is part of your estate, your executor may need to keep paying utility bills. The executor must pay legitimate debts presented by your creditors, along with any taxes due at the time of your death; he may have to sell some of your assets to pay these debts. Since your executor must file an inventory of estate assets with the court, your beneficiaries can obtain information about what assets comprise the estate and how the executor manages them. Once creditors are paid, your executor can distribute your remaining assets to your beneficiaries according to the terms of your will.

Beneficiary Rights

Your beneficiaries are entitled to receive their inheritances from your estate in a timely manner, but the exact length of time depends on your state’s procedures and the complexity of your estate. For example, if your state requires that your estate remains open to accept creditor claims for four months, your beneficiaries cannot receive their inheritances until that minimum time has passed, though the process may take much longer. Similarly, a complex estate could take years to resolve. If your beneficiaries feel that the executor is not managing your estate as required by your state’s laws, they have the right to petition the court to replace him. Once your executor is removed, the court appoints another person to fill the position.

Protect your loved ones by a legally binding will. Make a Will Online Now
How Does the Beneficiary Collect When the Loved One Passes?

References

Related articles

Process of a Will in Probate

Your last will and testament allows you to designate the division of your assets, including items such as real estate, personal belongings, cash and stocks. If you die with assets in your name, your will goes through a formal process known as probate. The probate process and costs may vary depending on the state you reside in at the time of your death, your assets, debts and whether anyone contests your will.

Estate Administrator Duties

When a person dies, his estate will likely go through the probate process, whether or not he left a will. During probate, the estate will be collected, debts paid and remaining assets distributed to beneficiaries. The person assigned the duty of managing the estate through this process is called an administrator or executor. Since state statutes govern estate administration, the administrator must follow state law regarding procedures and time frames.

Does the Executor Have Authority Over the Will?

An executor is the person named in a will to administer the estate of the person who died. The executor may be a bank or trust company instead of an individual. While state law varies as to the exact duties of an executor, in general all executors must gather the estate's assets, pay creditors, then distribute remaining estate assets in accordance with the will's directives, without any discretion to deviate from the will except in limited circumstances.

LegalZoom. Legal help is here. Start Here. Wills. Trusts. Attorney help.

Related articles

Who Enforces the Execution of a Will?

In drafting your will, you may appoint a person to serve as your executor, also known as a personal representative. ...

How to Settle an Estate After a Death Without a Lawyer

When it's time, a probate court will handle your estate. State law and court rules govern the process, so they can vary ...

Duties of the Executor of a Will in Texas

Wills often nominate an executor to administer the deceased’s estate after he dies. Once officially appointed by ...

What Happens After an Estate Has Been Probated?

Whether a person dies with our without a will, in most cases, his estate must go through the probate process. Although ...

Browse by category