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By Carey Thompson
Founding Attorney

Estate planning plays a vital role in determining how one’s assets are allocated after their demise. Beneficiaries stand at the center of this process, as they are the individuals designated to receive assets from an estate. It’s important for beneficiaries to recognize their rights as those inheriting. By understanding these rights, beneficiaries can better ensure their interests are protected and upheld. 

What Is an Estate Beneficiary?

An estate beneficiary is an individual or entity specifically designated to inherit assets, benefits, or privileges from someone’s estate after their passing. This designation can be made through various legal instruments, most commonly wills or trusts. These beneficiaries might receive tangible assets like property, monetary funds, or even intangible benefits like rights or interests. The exact nature and amount of what a beneficiary receives are typically detailed in the deceased’s estate planning documents, ensuring their wishes are honored in their absence.

Your Rights as a Beneficiary

  • Right to Information: Beneficiaries have an inherent right to information regarding the estate they stand to inherit from. This means they are entitled to be informed about the estate’s assets, liabilities, and the overall administration process. The executor or trustee managing the estate has a legal obligation to provide relevant and timely information to beneficiaries, ensuring transparency and trust throughout the process.
  • Right to an Accurate Accounting: The right to an accurate accounting of the estate’s affairs is another entitlement that beneficiaries possess. This entails a detailed record of assets, debts, distributions, and any expenses associated with the management of the estate. Executors or trustees are obligated to provide this accounting, ensuring that beneficiaries can verify that the estate is being managed in line with the decedent’s wishes and legal standards.
  • Right to Receive Assets in a Timely Manner: Beneficiaries are entitled to receive their designated assets from an estate within a reasonable timeframe. While the distribution process can vary based on the size and complexity of the estate, undue delays should not occur. If beneficiaries face prolonged waiting periods without valid reasons, they may have grounds to address the issue legally, ensuring their inheritance is received promptly.
  • Right to Challenge Fiduciary Decisions: Beneficiaries have the right to challenge decisions made by executors or trustees if they believe those decisions are not in the best interests of the estate or are inconsistent with the decedent’s wishes. This means that if a beneficiary perceives mismanagement, lack of transparency, or any decision that diminishes their inheritance, they can contest it. Taking such action might involve legal proceedings, and if successful, it could lead to adjustments in the administration or even replacement of the fiduciary.

Potential Complications and Issues

The journey from being named an estate beneficiary to actually receiving the designated assets is not always straightforward. One potential complication arises when there are disputes with co-beneficiaries. When an estate has multiple beneficiaries, disagreements might emerge regarding the interpretation of the decedent’s wishes, the value of assets, or the distribution methodology. Such disputes can prolong the estate administration process, leading to increased legal costs and sometimes straining familial or personal relationships among the beneficiaries.

Another concern is the potential mismanagement of estate assets. An executor or trustee has a fiduciary duty to manage and distribute the estate’s assets in the best interests of the beneficiaries, aligned with the deceased’s directives. However, there might be instances where beneficiaries suspect mismanagement, be it through the poor investment of assets, unnecessary expenses, or even personal enrichment at the estate’s expense. In such cases, beneficiaries have the right to demand a thorough accounting and, if needed, initiate legal action to address the perceived mismanagement.

Steps to Take If Your Rights Are Being Violated

If beneficiaries suspect their rights are being violated, it’s imperative they act promptly to protect their interests. The first step is often to seek legal counsel, obtaining advice from an attorney experienced in estate matters. They can provide guidance on the most suitable course of action, which might include formally requesting necessary information or an accurate accounting from the executor or trustee. If informal approaches don’t yield satisfactory results, beneficiaries might consider mediation as a means to resolve disputes. However, if all else fails, taking the matter to court might become necessary to ensure the beneficiary’s rights are upheld.

Make Sure Your Rights As a Beneficiary Are Protected

Recognizing and upholding your rights as an estate beneficiary is essential to ensuring your interests are protected. The Law Office of Carey Thompson specializes in estate matters and is equipped to provide the guidance and expertise you need. If you have questions or concerns about your beneficiary rights or any estate-related issues, we encourage you to reach out for knowledgeable assistance.

About the Author
Carey Thompson has been practicing Social Security Disability Law Since 2008 after he graduated from Texas Wesleyan School of Law, now known as Texas A&M school of Law in Fort Worth, TX.  While at Texas Wesleyan he served on Law Review.  Prior to going to Law School, Mr. Thompson was a High School Band Director for four years using his degree in Music Education from Michigan State University.  Prior to Attending Michigan State, he attended Aledo Schools from Kindergarten to graduate.  Mr.Thompson feels strongly about serving the people of Tarrant County.