Can the Beneficiary Be the Executor of a Will?

By Beverly Bird

Most states do not have any laws against a beneficiary in a will also serving as the executor, or the person charged with overseeing the probate process. In fact, the situation is not uncommon. However, there are several practical considerations to take into account if you name an executor who will also inherit under the terms of your will.


Executors are commonly compensated for their services. Someone who stands to inherit under the terms of your will may be more inclined to waive payment for acting as executor. Since the estate pays the fee, it is probably going to be deducted from his bequest to some extent anyway. Avoiding payment of the executor eliminates one step of the probate process and might cause it to be settled sooner. If you trust your executor a great deal -- and your other beneficiaries do, as well -- you may feel comfortable waiving the requirement that he post bond, which most state laws will demand unless you expressly waive the responsibility in your will.


Since the job of an executor is to pay your debts and taxes, then distribute the balance of your estate to the beneficiaries, it creates a conflict of interest for a beneficiary to disburse funds from the estate that would otherwise go to him if those debts were declined for payment. Small estates that run the risk of insolvency -- having more debts than assets -- can put the executor in a bad position if he is also a beneficiary. There might be limited funds to disburse at the end of probate, making it impossible for all beneficiaries to receive the full amount they were supposed to receive under the will. In this case, your executor would have to decide how much to give each beneficiary, including himself.

Protect your loved ones. Start My Estate Plan

Precautionary Measures

If you name a beneficiary as your executor, consider also naming a co-executor to provide a second opinion if any conflicts of interest arise. At least name an alternate executor, because if your other beneficiaries petition the court to remove your beneficiary/executor because they don’t think she is acting fairly, you have a backup in place to take over.

Other Considerations

Actions taken by an executor during the probate of an estate are usually monitored by the court, so the opportunity for any actual wrongdoing by an executor who is also a beneficiary is limited. If your estate is small and all your beneficiaries are next-of-kin, the choice of an executor may not be as critical. The position may not require a great deal of financial expertise, so paying executor fees to a professional would not be worthwhile. Also, be honest with yourself as to how well all your beneficiaries get along. Naming one of them as executor could either facilitate the probate process or cause unnecessary complications.

Protect your loved ones. Start My Estate Plan
Responsibilities as a Personal Representative for an Estate


Related articles

Who Enforces the Execution of a Will?

In drafting your will, you may appoint a person to serve as your executor, also known as a personal representative. This person will have the responsibility of carrying out your wishes pursuant to the will. Because the executor has a number of responsibilities and can be held personally responsible if they are not properly carried out, carefully consider appointing someone who is trustworthy and capable of carrying out the somewhat complicated probate process.

Procedure for Appointing an Executor of a Will

The testator, or person drafting the will, appoints an executor to handle the distribution of the estate. If the will does not name an executor, the court appoints an administrator. Many people consider the role of executor to be an honorary appointment. However, an executor incurs serious responsibilities in administering the affairs for the estate. While the final decision rests with the testator, following certain guidelines can minimize misunderstandings and may prevent serious legal difficulties down the line.

What Can I Do if the Executor of the Estate Doesn't Pay Me as an Heir?

You are due an inheritance, but you have a problem with the way the executor is doing his job. Depending on the estate in question and the laws of the state, the probate process can be quite complex, but there is a structure to the process. Distribution of the assets of the estate to beneficiaries named in the will or to heirs under intestate succession usually come at the end.

LegalZoom. Legal help is here. Start Here. Wills. Trusts. Attorney help. Wills & Trusts

Related articles

How to Change the Executor of an Estate

No matter how meticulously you plan your estate, the possibility always exists that the decisions you make won't work ...

Iowa State Laws on Executors

Probate is the process by which your estate is transferred to your beneficiaries after your death. An executor is the ...

Trouble With an Executor

Just because your loved one trusted an individual enough to name her as executor of his will, doesn’t automatically ...

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 ...

Browse by category
Ready to Begin? GET STARTED