Do Beneficiaries Have to Sign Off on Probate of a Will?

By Heather Frances J.D.

As a beneficiary named in someone’s will, you may want a say in how the deceased’s estate is administered. However, in most cases, you won’t have any control over the details of estate administration and don’t have to sign off on probate as a whole, but you may have some important rights at certain times in the process.

Beneficiary Authority

The requirements of estate administration and the rights of beneficiaries vary by state. Generally, beneficiaries cannot keep probate from being opened; many states require probate to be opened within a certain period after the decedent’s death. Also, beneficiaries don’t have any approval authority. However, they can object to the appointment of the executor, or estate administrator, and request that someone else serve in that role. Beneficiaries can also dispute the validity of the decedent’s will.

Estate Accounting

Beneficiaries can demand accountings from the executor during the probate process, and some states require executors to file accountings with the court. The accounting should list the actions the executor has taken, such as property he has sold and what assets are in the estate. If beneficiaries don't approve of what the executor has done so far, they can go to court and request the executor be removed. Usually, removal is appropriate only if the executor has acted inappropriately or negligently.

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Receipt of an Inheritance

After the decedent’s debts are properly paid, the decedent’s remaining assets may be distributed to the decedent’s beneficiaries. Beneficiaries often must sign off on the inheritance they receive to acknowledge receipt of the distribution. For example, if you inherit a portion of real estate from the decedent, you must sign a deed accepting that real estate. Otherwise, the transfer is not effective.

Closing the Estate

Depending on state law, the executor may need to obtain approval from the beneficiaries before he closes the probate estate. For example, the court may require the beneficiaries to sign off on a final estate accounting. The court may also require a final hearing before it allows the estate to be closed, but beneficiaries may waive that hearing by signing a waiver form.

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