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 to understand.

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 intervene. Transparency is the rule.

This allows parties to dispute the decisions made and also to prevent:

  • Misunderstandings
  • Malfeasance
  • Fraud
  • Mistakes

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 decide on accuracy.

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, some believe that 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 a 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, contest 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, disburse 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 must be honest, diligent, and keep financial matters transparent.

Learn More About Your Rights as a Beneficiary or Heir

You should discuss with your attorney any concerns you have about your probate rights. You do not have the right to make these decisions yourself but can dispute the decisions made. 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, contact Steven M. Simrin for a consultation.