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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Beneficiary Dying During the Probate of the Will in Pennsylvania

The death of a beneficiary during the probate process can alter the distribution of the estate. Some wills include a provision stating that a beneficiary must survive the testator by a certain amount of time -- 30 days, for example -- but this type of contingency is not usually planned for. Whether such a provision is included in a will can make all the difference in how the assets of the estate are distributed.

Executor & Beneficiary Rights to an Estate

Executors and beneficiaries of a will have a unique relationship under the law. An executor’s role is to ensure the management of a deceased person’s estate complies with the decedent’s will and the probate rules of the state where he died. The executor also has a responsibility to the decedent’s beneficiaries to ensure each one gets the property the decedent wanted them to have, as defined by the will. This process can become difficult if the executor is also a beneficiary of the estate. Therefore, it is vital the executor and all beneficiaries have a clear understanding of what rights they have regarding an estate.

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.

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