Beneficiary Vs. Personal Representative

By David Montoya

The death of a loved one is always a difficult time for family and friends. As such, a solid understanding of the probate process, which is the legal process of administering an estate, and the parties involved, helps the process move along smoothly and keeps unnecessarily stressful situations at bay. Two important players in estate administration include the beneficiary and the personal representative. While these two players have vastly different responsibilities, they are firmly connected to each other throughout the entire probate process.

The Personal Representative

The personal representative, also known as the executor to a will distributes all the estate property mentioned in the will. Further, the personal representative takes care of all the property in the will by ensuring that all taxes are paid in a timely manner, paying off debts, and distributing the property accordingly. Think of the will as a set of directions and the personal representative as the person that carries out those directions.

Naming an Estate Administrator

Normally a will specifies the person to act as personal representative upon the death of the testator, or will maker. However, situations exist where the will does not mention a personal representative or the representative passed away before the testator. The court names an estate administrator in these situations, choosing a person who is best suited to carry out the intent of the will. An estate administrator chosen by the court has the same exact duties and obligations as a personal representative named in the will.

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The Beneficiary

The beneficiaries of the will receive the estate property according to the specific directions of the testator. For example, a will may state that a deceased father's car goes to his eldest son while several expensive paintings go to the youngest son. The eldest and youngest sons are beneficiaries of the car and the paintings, respectively. Beneficiaries have few obligations saved for any terms outlined in the will that the beneficiary must follow before receiving the named estate property.

Relationship between Beneficiaries and Personal Representatives

The personal representative carries a high burden of responsibility. In short, the representative becomes a fiduciary of the estate. This means the representative must accurately account for all probate property, ensure none of the property diminishes in value, and distributes the property to the appropriate beneficiaries as soon as those beneficiaries can take property under the guidelines of the will. Failure to meet this high standard may leave the personal representative responsible to the beneficiaries for any depreciation in the estate's value.

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Next of Kin Rights vs. Executor of the Will


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Can an Executor of a Will Also Be a Beneficiary?

A testator, or person making a will, often names someone he trusts in the will to manage his affairs after his death. This person is referred to as a personal representative or executor. Since family members are often the most trusted people in the testator's life, one or more of them are frequently named as personal representatives even though they may also be devisees, or beneficiaries, under his will.

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.

What to Do With a Will After a Death

Wills provide written documentation of the will maker's -- also called testator -- final wishes. Upon the death of the testator, the will undergoes a formal legal process known as probate. Probate helps determine the validity of the will and oversees the process of carrying out its directives. The person responsible for taking the will through probate is called an executor.


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