Executors, Administrators, and Beneficiaries, Oh My: Understanding Parties Involved in Wills

When you first begin writing your estate plan, it’s easy to get lost in the different terms involved. The titles for the people named in your will can be particularly confusing. For example, it may not be immediately obvious what the differences are among executors, administrators, and beneficiaries. 

However, understanding these differences is crucial to writing a will that reflects your wishes. Here’s how executors, administrators, and beneficiaries differ, when they can overlap, and what it means for your estate.

What Is an Executor of a Will?

An executor is the person a will names responsible for carrying out its terms and bequests. The executor executes the will’s instructions and works with probate to honor the decedent’s last wishes. 

Executors may have many responsibilities, depending on the circumstances. These include:

  • Handling probate
  • Informing beneficiaries and heirs that they are responsible for executing the will
  • Acting in the best interests of the beneficiaries and estate
  • Settling the decedent’s debts
  • Protecting and distributing assets according to the will’s instructions
  • Working with professionals like attorneys and accountants as necessary to ensure the will is followed

Just because someone is named an executor in a will does not mean they must accept this responsibility. Executors can decline the role, so it is crucial to talk with your preferred executor before you name them in your will.

What Does an Administrator of an Estate Do?

Administrators aren’t named in your will. When an administrator is assigned to your estate, probate determined you had no legally binding will or failed to identify a living and consenting executor. 

Administrators are assigned by probate to handle estate administration when an executor is not identified. People may petition to be named an administrator, or the court can appoint a professional to manage the estate. Probate usually grants surviving parents, spouses, or adult children priority when naming an administrator. 

Administrators are responsible for the same duties as an executor. If the estate is large enough, they may also need to do a few extra tasks, like providing a family tree or filling out additional paperwork. Still, the biggest difference between executors and administrators is whether the decedent chose them or the court appointed them. 

Who Are the Beneficiaries of a Will?

Beneficiaries are parties who benefit from a will. These can include individuals, charities, trusts, and other legal entities. Sometimes, individual beneficiaries are also referred to as heirs. 

Someone can be a beneficiary of a will even if they are not explicitly named. Some wills include “classes” of beneficiaries, such as “children,” “grandchildren,” or “surviving family.” These categories are non-specific on purpose. Stating that certain assets should be divided equally among a class of heirs ensures that they are all treated the same, regardless of how many people that class includes. 

For example, you may not know how many grandchildren you’ll eventually have. By simply naming “grandchildren” as a class, you don’t have to worry about leaving one out because you failed to update your will before you passed. 

Can Executors and Administrators Also Be Beneficiaries?

Yes, the person executing your will or administering your estate can also be a beneficiary. In fact, most executors and administrators are also beneficiaries because they are close relatives or loved ones of the decedent.

There is one caveat to this fact. Executors and administrators who are also heirs may have conflicts of interest when carrying out their duties. They must be responsible and trustworthy enough to handle the estate according to the will or state inheritance law, even if it is not in their own best interest. 

If they do not fulfill that duty, the court can remove them. However, this can require a lengthy probate battle impacting your other heirs. Choosing the right executor up front is best, so this doesn’t become a problem. 

Name Executors and Beneficiaries With Expert Legal Help

You don’t need to figure out the terminology around estate plans alone. You can work with an experienced attorney from The Dayton Law Firm, P.C., to learn how to write a comprehensive and legally sound will and testament. Get in touch today to ask your questions and learn how to name your beneficiaries and executor and accomplish your goals for your estate.