Beneficiary vs. Personal Representative

By Stephanie Kurose, J.D.

Beneficiary vs. Personal Representative

By Stephanie Kurose, J.D.

A beneficiary and a personal representative are two parties involved in the probate process that sometimes takes place after someone has passed away. Probate, the court process of proving a will and establishing its validity, must occur before anyone named in a will can receive the assets the deceased individual left to them.

Suited man helping an elderly man signing documents

A beneficiary, or heir, is someone to which the deceased person has left assets, and a personal representative, sometimes called an executor or administrator, is the person in charge of handling the distribution of assets.

The responsibilities of a personal representative.

Under the supervision of the probate court, the personal representative distributes any assets included in a will to the correct heir. The deceased person, or testator, often explicitly names their executor in their will, but the probate court may appoint an administrator if the will does not name one.

The responsibilities of a personal representative can vary slightly depending on the circumstances, but the position is an important one. When someone accepts the role, they have a fiduciary duty to the estate and to any of its beneficiaries. Not only is this individual in charge of making sure the deceased's assets transfer to the correct heirs, but in the meantime they must take care of all the estate property, managing all assets and paying all taxes in a timely manner. They are also responsible for paying any outstanding debts the deceased owed. If they fail to fulfill their role, the court can hold them personally liable for any wrongdoings.

The role of the beneficiary.

A beneficiary receives some or all of an estate's property according to the terms of the will. For example, if the will states, "My eldest son, John, is to receive my red convertible," then John is a beneficiary.

There can be unlimited heirs named in a will, and their role depends on the contents of the will. Most of the time, the beneficiary does nothing other than simply receive the bequest. However, some wills include terms that state the individual must do something, such as graduate college or get married, before receiving any property.

The relationship between beneficiaries and personal representatives.

The role of a beneficiary and the role of the personal representative have very little in common. However, the entire process does connect these parties. As stated above, the personal representative has a fiduciary duty to the estate and cannot take any actions that would benefit themselves or another heir at the expense of other beneficiaries.

As the executor, the personal representative must give all named heirs notice when the probate process begins and provide any information they are entitled to know. This may include what assets are included in the estate, how much debt the estate owes, and which assets the executor has decided to sell to settle that debt. Beneficiaries have the right to request ongoing reports from the personal representative about the administration of the estate.

If you would like to learn more about the relationship between a personal representative and a beneficiary or the duties of each, contact an experienced attorney for more information. The differences and responsibilities of a personal representative and beneficiary are important to understand in the probate process.

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