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By: Scott Grossman on February 1st, 2024

Can an Executor Decide Who Gets What? 

Can an executor decide who gets what? An executor of a will cannot arbitrarily decide who gets what from the decedent’s estate. Their primary responsibility is to distribute the estate according to the instructions in the will. Or in the absence of a will, according to the laws of intestacy of the state where the estate is being settled. The executor has a fiduciary duty to act in the estate’s and its beneficiaries’ best interest. This ensures that debts and taxes are paid before distributing the remaining assets to the rightful heirs.

The executor’s powers are significant but not unlimited. They are legally bound to follow the terms of the will. Plus, it can be held liable for not adhering to its instructions. If the will is unclear or does not specify how certain assets should be distributed, the executor may have some discretion in deciding how to distribute those assets. However, this discretion must be exercised in a manner consistent with the overall intent of the will. Moreover, it is in the best interests of the beneficiaries.

In cases where there is no will or the will does not cover all assets, the executor (or administrator, if there is no will) must distribute the assets according to state intestacy laws, which typically outline a specific order of inheritance based on familial relationships.

Executor’s decision-making power

When someone passes away and leaves behind assets and debts, an executor handles the distribution of the estate. The role of the executor is crucial in ensuring that the deceased’s wishes are carried out. And that the estate is distributed correctly. But what powers does an executor have when deciding who gets what?

The decision-making power of an executor is not unlimited. Executors have the authority to make crucial decisions regarding the estate; certain legal obligations and restrictions bind them.

One of the primary responsibilities of an executor is to ensure that the estate assets are distributed according to the instructions outlined in the deceased’s will. That means that if the will specifies who should receive specific assets or properties, the executor is generally obligated to follow these instructions.

However, there are situations where an executor may have some discretion in determining how the estate is distributed. For example, suppose the will is unclear or does not provide specific instructions. In that case, the executor may have to use their judgment to determine who should receive certain assets.

In addition to following the instructions outlined in the will, an executor must adhere to the jurisdiction’s laws where the estate is being administered. These laws may impose specific requirements or restrictions on the distribution of assets, and the executor must ensure that they comply.

Estate Distribution Authority

The authority of an executor to distribute the estate is also subject to the probate court’s approval. The probate court oversees the administration of estates and ensures that the executor is fulfilling their duties properly.

Before distributing any assets, an executor must provide the probate court with an inventory of the estate. This inventory outlines all the assets and debts of the deceased and provides a clear picture of the estate’s value. The probate court then reviews this inventory to ensure its accuracy.

Suppose there are no disputes or objections from interested parties. In that case, the probate court will typically grant the executor the authority to distribute the estate. However, if there are disputes or concerns regarding the distribution, the court may step in and make the final decision.

It’s important to note that an executor’s authority to distribute the estate is not absolute. They must act in the best interests of the estate and the beneficiaries. Their decisions may be subject to review by the probate court.

Executor’s Role in Inheritance

So, can an executor decide who gets what? An executor plays a crucial role in the inheritance process. They are responsible for distributing the estate assets, ensuring they go to the rightful beneficiaries. That involves identifying and locating all beneficiaries, notifying them of their inheritance, and facilitating the transfer of assets.

The executor is also responsible for addressing the deceased’s outstanding debts or liabilities. That includes paying off creditors and settling exceptional obligations before distributing the remaining assets to the beneficiaries.

In some cases, disputes may arise among the beneficiaries regarding the distribution of assets. In such situations, the executor may be required to mediate or seek legal guidance to resolve the conflicts.

While an executor has a significant role in the inheritance process, it’s important to remember that their decisions are not final. Interested parties, such as beneficiaries or creditors, can challenge the executor’s decisions and seek redress through the probate court.

In conclusion, an executor has decision-making power when it comes to distributing the assets of an estate. However, this power is not unlimited. The executor must follow the instructions outlined in the will and comply with applicable laws. The probate court also plays a crucial role in overseeing the distribution process, ensuring that the executor fulfills their duties properly. Ultimately, the goal of the executor is to ensure that the deceased’s wishes are carried out and that the estate is distributed fairly and equitably.

What Is the Role of an Executor in a Will

The role of an executor in a will is to carry out the wishes of the deceased person based on the instructions in the will. That includes various responsibilities such as:

  1. Locating and Understanding the Will: The executor is responsible for finding, reading, and understanding the will. They determine who inherits the property.
  2. Managing Finances: The executor is responsible for sorting out the deceased’s finances, ensuring that debts and taxes are paid and that the remaining assets are appropriately distributed to the heirs. 
  3. Identifying and Collecting Assets: This involves identifying and collecting the assets of the estate. Also, safeguard and invest those assets pending distribution to beneficiaries.
  4. Paying Debts and Liabilities: The executor is responsible for paying debts and liabilities owed by the estate. 
  5. Distributing Assets to Heirs and Beneficiaries: Once all the necessary tasks are completed, the executor distributes the decedent’s assets to the heirs and beneficiaries according to the will’s provisions. 

The executor is a fiduciary, meaning that every action they take on behalf of the decedent’s estate must be in the estate’s best interest. They must act in the estate’s and its beneficiaries’ best interests. They can face legal liability if they fail to meet this duty. 

Can You Challenge an Executor in Court

There are certain circumstances when an executor can be challenged in court. Beneficiaries can contest an executor if they believe the executor is engaging in misconduct, such as failing to fulfill their duties, mismanaging estate assets, or displaying favoritism toward particular beneficiaries. However, simply disagreeing with a decision laid out in the will is not sufficient reason to challenge an executor. If the court finds merit in the challenge, a new executor may be assigned, and the estate can continue to move through probate. It’s important to note that contesting an executor can be complex, and it’s advisable to seek the guidance of qualified estate attorneys to navigate this process effectively. 

Next Steps in the Probate Process

It is vital to hire a probate attorney in California. Their expertise, guidance, and knowledge of California probate laws are invaluable throughout the probate process. Whether you are an executor, beneficiary, or concerned family member, TGLF can assist you in fulfilling the legal requirements, maximizing the estate’s value, and minimizing potential conflicts or delays.

By seeking the assistance of a probate attorney, you can navigate the complexities of the probate process with confidence and peace of mind. If you need more guidance in the probate process, check out our Overview of the California Probate process.

If your case is in California and you’d like an honest opinion, fill out our Get Help Now form. Or contact our office today to schedule your free 30-minute phone consultation by calling us at (888) 443-6590.