Rights of Heirs & Beneficiaries in Probate
Insight from an Oakland Beneficiary Rights Attorney
The executor or administrator of an estate has a special role. He or she
is tasked with administering the estate to meet the objectives set out
in the will or, if there is no will, under California laws of intestacy.
Regardless of who is serving as executor or administrator during probate,
the heirs and beneficiaries of an estate have certain rights they need
Right of Notification
Heirs and beneficiaries must be kept informed of relevant documents and
activities related to the estate. This means that the law requires executors
and administrators to notify the beneficiaries of certain events.
The right to receive this notification is a fundamental right that all
heirs and beneficiaries have. When this duty to inform is mishandled by
an executor, concerned parties can (and should) ask their attorney to
Transparency is the rule.
This allows parties to dispute the decisions made and also to prevent:
Right to Object
One of the areas that may lead to disputes is the accounting of the assets
of an estate, or how those assets are categorized. Because heirs and beneficiaries
are directly affected when assets are incorrectly accounted for,
they have the right to object to a financial statement. They may ask the court to review the statements and make a determination
This can happen when someone is hiding assets of the deceased or claiming
an incorrect value for some item, or may simply be an error. Unfortunately,
there are some who believe that a death allows them to take property that
rightly belongs to the estate and part of the distribution under a will.
You may also object when an accounting shows suspicious transactions by
the executor or if a creditor is making a false claim.
Right to Pursue a Legal Remedy
Heirs and beneficiaries have legal standing to bring an action in court
regarding the estate. This is true when they are named in the will or
have a claim based on a family relationship even when not named in the will.
Other parties may have standing as determined by the court.
Lawsuits may be started to compel some action by the executor, challenge
the terms of the will, remove the executor from their position, or seek
damages when the executor has acted illegally. The latter can arise when
an executor misappropriates funds, hides assets, disburses property inappropriately,
or steals assets from the estate.
You will have to consult with your
probate lawyer to decide if an action is warranted against an executor. Not all
probate disputes rise to the level of needing a lawsuit, and your lawyer
may suggest other avenues to arrive at a fair result.
Right to Examine Asset Distribution & Spending
Executors and estate administrators are entitled to compensation. They
are also empowered to pay debts owed by the estate. Because funds spent
by an executor come from the estate itself, these decisions may directly
impact beneficiaries or heirs.
You have the right to examine "the books" and see where assets are being spent or distributed. The responsible party
has a duty to be honest, diligent, and to keep financial matters transparent.
You do not have the right to make these decisions yourself but
can dispute the decisions made. You should discuss with your attorney any
concerns you have about your probate rights. An advocate experienced in
trust and probate will be able to advise you on whether transactions are
normal and reasonable. They can also request more information when a matter
seems suspicious and counsel you on your options.
If you don't already have an
Alameda County beneficiary rights attorney,
for a consultation.