Can the Beneficiary Be the Executor of a Will?

By Cindy DeRuyter, J.D.

Can the Beneficiary Be the Executor of a Will?

By Cindy DeRuyter, J.D.

When you create a will, the two most important things to consider are who to name as beneficiaries and who to name as the executor, or personal representative. Your beneficiaries are the people you want to inherit the assets that pass through your will, and the executor or personal representative is the person charged with winding down your estate and administering your will when you die. In many cases, it can make sense to name a person as both a beneficiary and as the executor. However, there may be circumstances where it makes more sense to name someone who doesn't have a beneficial interest in the estate as the executor.

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Considerations When Naming a Beneficiary as Executor

Beneficiaries named in wills are often family members, such as the surviving spouse or children of the person creating the will. There are many potential benefits to also naming one of these family members as the executor of the estate.

First, a surviving spouse or adult child likely knows and understands your wishes for managing and distributing the estate. When the will is fairly uncomplicated and straightforward—for example, leaving all assets to the surviving spouse—naming the spouse as the executor can be cost-effective and efficient.

In other situations, where beneficiaries are likely to argue among themselves or contest the administration of the estate, it can be beneficial to name a third party as the executor. That could be a family friend or a relative outside the immediate family, or it could be a professional fiduciary, such as the trust department of a bank or other financial institution. Naming a disinterested third party as executor may also make sense when the estate involves complexities that your beneficiary may have difficulty handling.

Compensation can be another factor when deciding whether to name a beneficiary as the executor. Executors, whether beneficiaries or disinterested third-party fiduciaries, are generally eligible to receive reasonable compensation for their services under state laws. When a beneficiary of the estate is named as the executor, it is common for them to forego compensation for their services, other than the share of your estate they will inherit.

State Requirements for Executors

While a beneficiary can be named as the executor, it is important to also make sure your executor meets the requirements established by the laws of your state. While those laws can vary, there are some commonalities.

Executors must be at least 18 years old and must have the mental capacity to serve. Generally speaking, convicted felons do not qualify to serve as executors. Finally, your executor must also be willing to serve in that role. You cannot obligate your nominated executor to serve, so it's a good idea to discuss your wishes with the person you want to name to determine their willingness to serve.

Naming a Successor or Alternate Executors in Your Will

At the time you create your will, you can't know for certain that your nominated executor will be willing and able to serve in that role when called to do so. That is true whether you name a beneficiary or a third-party executor. A good practice is to nominate a successor or alternate executor to act if your first-named executor cannot.

Assigning and executor for your will is an important decision. When considering whether making a beneficiary the executor, make sure you take into account whether it would be beneficial to consider all of the factors and decide whether a neutral third party and an alternate executor make sense for your circumstances.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.