What rights do I have as a probate beneficiary?
If you’ve been named the beneficiary in a will, you’re probably wondering what a beneficiary’s rights are.
First things first: a beneficiary in a will has no rights before the creator of the will has died. The will’s writer could spend all of their assets on stuffed animals and leave their estate bankrupt, and the beneficiary has no recourse.
However, once the will’s creator dies, the beneficiary has a right to ownership of the assets indicated in the deceased’s will. That doesn’t mean that the executor is required to transfer money into your bank account the next day, though — the right to the assets is limited by the requirements of the probate process.
Specifically, beneficiaries have the right to have their assets handled by the executor in good faith, to obtain relevant information about the estate from the executor, to receive their assets in a timely manner, and to petition for removal of the executor in certain situations.
Let’s dig into what these rights mean for you.
Right to the executor’s fiduciary duty
Fiduciary duty is simply a formal way of saying that an executor must handle the assets of the estate with care and in good faith. The executor may not favor themselves or any particular beneficiaries over other beneficiaries or the directions in the will.
Because the executor has a fiduciary duty to the estate as a whole and not just to you as an individual beneficiary, estate expenses (like debts, taxes and the cost of the funeral) must be handled before any assets are distributed to beneficiaries.
Right to certain information
As a beneficiary, you have the right to demand information from the executor during the probate process. You can request to know:
- What assets the estate holds
- How much debt the estate must pay
- Which assets are being used to pay that debt
You can also request general ongoing reports about the activities of the executor with relation to the management of the estate. Executors are required to maintain accurate records throughout the probate process.
Right to timely distribution of assets
You have a right to timely distribution of the assets, but as we mentioned above, the executor is responsible for ensuring that all debts and expenses of the estate are handled before distributing any assets to heirs.
Depending on the complexity of the estate and the efficiency of the probate court, a timely distribution could take anywhere from a few months to a year or more. And if handling the debts and expenses of the estate leaves the estate without any funds, the beneficiaries don’t receive a distribution.
Right to petition for removal of executor
Conflicts between executors and beneficiaries are not uncommon. Combine family, death, and money can get a little tricky. But sometimes issues go beyond the usual disagreements — like when an executor has stolen assets from the estate.
Either the deceased’s will or the probate code for your state (or both) will designate instances in which it is reasonable for a probate court to remove an executor. If you believe removal is necessary, you have the right to petition the probate court to have the executor removed and a new executor appointed.
Don’t hesitate to schedule a free consultation with one of our expert team members if you still have questions.