No one likes to think about dying, yet everyone should prepare a last will and testament -- even young people or people with few assets. If you die without a will, the courts will distribute your property, and not necessarily the way you would have wished. When you make a will, you choose your beneficiaries -- the people or institutions who will inherit your property -- and designate the legal guardian of your children. You also decide who will be the executor or personal representative who carries out your intentions.
A person named as executor of a will is responsible for carrying out someone’s wishes about how his property is dispersed after death. The person making the will chooses the executor and names him in the will. He can appoint an individual or an institution, such as a bank or trust company, to act as executor. The executor must see to it that all debts and taxes are paid from the deceased’s estate and that whatever is left is distributed, as specified in the will, to people and organizations named in it as beneficiaries. The executor must locate the decedent’s assets, file the will in probate court if necessary, notify agencies of the death, establish a bank account in the name of the estate to accept incoming funds and pay expenses, and distribute remaining property to beneficiaries and heirs.
A beneficiary is a person or an entity, such as a charity, who is named to receive assets from an estate, a trust or an insurance policy. A person drafting a will may name individuals and organizations as beneficiaries. Beneficiaries can be a spouse, children and grandchildren, relatives, friends and even pets. Gifts may also be left to benefit organizations such as universities. The beneficiaries must be specifically identified by name, address and -- in the case of individuals -- birth date.
Beneficiary as Executor
In all states in the U.S., the person who is appointed as an executor can also be named as a beneficiary. Surviving spouses and adult children often serve as executors while they stand to acquire assets from the deceased’s estate. The executor need only be eligible according to state law to serve in that capacity; a minor or a convicted felon can’t be an executor. When someone dies intestate -- without a will -- or the chosen executor can’t serve, the probate court can choose an executor. Generally the surviving spouse or adult children are chosen in that case.
Laws concerning estates and beneficiaries derive from civil law that determines the right of succession. No laws forbid a beneficiary of a will from also serving as an executor. Such a restriction would limit the choice of executor.
As a long-time newspaper reporter and staff writer, Kay Bosworth covered real estate development and business for publications in northern New Jersey. Her extensive career included serving as editor of a business education magazine for the McGraw-Hill Book Company. The Kentucky native earned a BA from Transylvania University in Lexington.