Executor & Beneficiary Rights to an Estate

By Larissa Bodniowycz, J.D.

Executor & Beneficiary Rights to an Estate

By Larissa Bodniowycz, J.D.

When someone passes away, they leave an estate, which is all their remaining assets. The beneficiaries of the estate are the people entitled to receive those assets. The executor of the estate is the person in charge of distributing the assets in the estate. The executor is often, but not always, also a beneficiary. The beneficiaries and executor of an estate each have rights.

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Beneficiaries Rights

Beneficiaries under a will have important rights including the right to receive what was left to them, to receive information about the estate, to request a different executor, and for the executor to act in their best interests.

As you would expect, the beneficiaries have the right to receive whatever assets the decedent left them. For example, if a will states leaves “the map of Thailand to John Murray," then John Murray has the right to receive the map of Thailand.

Additionally, the beneficiaries have the right to receive what they were left in a timely manner. Taking the same example, John Murray has the right to receive the map before 10 years elapse since the decedent's death. The exact meaning of “timely" varies by state and circumstances.

The beneficiaries also have the right to receive information about what's going on in the administration of the estate. Typically, this information should be provided by the executor of the estate.

Beneficiaries have certain rights related to the executor. They have the right to have the executor act in their best interests. This means the executor must make decisions based on what's best for the estate, not what's best for the executor.

Beneficiaries who are unhappy with the executor have the right to request that the court remove the executor and appoint a new one. However, an executor will only be removed if there is a good reason. It's not enough that the beneficiaries simply don't like the executor.

Executors Rights

Typically, the executor has more responsibilities than rights. The executor's two primary rights are the right to decline the role and the right to compensation for work performed.

If a person dies with a will, the executor is usually named in the will. If no executor is named, the court appoints an executor based on state law. In either case, the proposed executor can decline to take on the role. When that occurs, either the successor executor named in the will or the next person in line under state law become the executor.

Administering an estate can be a time-consuming process involving preparation or paperwork, communicating with beneficiaries, organizing physical and intangible assets, selling assets, and consultation with experts like certified public accountants (CPAs) and attorneys. It's common for the process to take six months to a year or more. In short, it's a lot of work for the executor. Fortunately, the executor can pay themselves reasonable compensation for the work out of the estate's assets. Each state has rules on how this can be done and the limits on the amount that can be paid.

Executors can use a legal service provider or probate attorney to walk them through the process of administering an estate.

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.