Senior couple reviewing estate planning document with attorney

Can an Executor Override a Beneficiary?

StachlerHarmon Attorneys at Law Nov. 27, 2023

Executors of the estate and those designated to inherit the decedent’s assets—called beneficiaries—have a very important relationship. The executor has a legal duty to administer the decedent’s estate and act in the best interests of the beneficiaries.  

It is not uncommon for estate executors and beneficiaries to have disputes that may lead to parties trying to override one another. But can an executor override beneficiaries? The answer depends on each individual case, which is why you might want to speak with an attorney.  

At StachlerHarmon Attorneys at Law, we represent both sides of such disputes by helping them navigate the legal process and explaining their options. Our office is based in Dayton, Ohio, but we serve clients in the surrounding areas, including Preble County, Clark County, Greene County, Butler County, Warrant, and Miamisburg.  

The Role of the Executor

An executor is a person appointed by the testator in the last will and testament who is trusted with carrying out the testator’s wishes laid out in the will. However, if someone dies without a will or does not name the executor in the document, it will be up to the court to appoint one. The executor owes a fiduciary duty to both the estate and the beneficiaries of the estate. While beneficiaries are legally obligated to act in the best interests of the estate, their actions may go against what beneficiaries want. As a result, this may lead to disputes between the executor and beneficiaries.  

The Role of a Beneficiary

A beneficiary is someone who is set to inherit assets from another person. Beneficiaries can be named in a last will and testament, trust, and other estate planning documents created by the owner of such assets during their lifetime. When the owner dies, their assets will transfer to the individuals and entities named as their beneficiaries. Owners of assets can name both primary and secondary beneficiaries. While primary beneficiaries are first in line to inherit, the asset may go to the secondary beneficiary if the primary beneficiary is unable or unwilling to inherit. Beneficiaries may not always agree with how the deceased person’s estate is handled or other decisions made by the executor, which may result in disputes between beneficiaries and executors.  

Can an Executor Override the Estate’s Beneficiaries?

An executor can override a beneficiary as long as doing so is necessary to follow the terms outlined in the will or a court order. However, an executor cannot override a beneficiary to change or withhold their inheritance or modify the terms of the last will and testament just because they want to. The executor is legally obligated to abide by the will when administering an estate and distributing assets to the beneficiaries.  

Thus, before overriding a beneficiary, the executor must carefully read the terms of the will and determine whether or not the document expressly gives them the authority to do so. Often, a beneficiary may feel that assets were distributed unfairly and that they are entitled to much more. However, it is critical to keep in mind that one of the executor’s duties includes paying off the deceased person’s debts and taxes, which can reduce the beneficiaries’ inheritance when the estate lacks sufficient funds to settle the liabilities.  

When in doubt, it is best to seek legal counsel before overriding a beneficiary. An estate attorney can explain how to interpret the terms of the will and ensure that you, as the executor, do not breach your fiduciary duties when signing over the estate’s assets to the beneficiaries.  

Can Beneficiaries Override an Executor?

If beneficiaries have reason to believe that the executor has mismanaged estate assets or otherwise breached fiduciary duties, they can request the removal of the executor from their position, which is also known as “overriding” an executor. This can be done by filing the appropriate petition with the probate court, which will be tasked with determining the validity of the request for removal.

However, beneficiaries cannot remove an executor simply because they do not agree with what the executor is doing. As long as the executor acts in the best interests of the estate and its beneficiaries and follows the instructions in the will, beneficiaries cannot override them.  

We Help Resolve Disputes Between an Executor and Beneficiaries

StachlerHarmon Attorneys at Law has extensive experience helping estate executors and beneficiaries resolve disputes of all kinds. In particular, we assist clients with the following:  

  • Understanding their rights and obligations. 

  • Establishing whether they have a valid legal case to pursue. 

  • Exploring their options to challenge the other party’s decision. 

  • Exploring their options to override the other party. 

  • Working toward a mutually beneficial outcome through out-of-court dispute resolution methods. 

  • Taking the dispute to court and advocating for the client’s best interests. 

Our attorneys can advise you on all possible solutions in your matter so that you can make an informed decision about how to proceed with your dispute.  

Reliable Legal Help You Can Trust

At StachlerHarmon Attorneys at Law, we understand how frustrating the disputes between an estate executor and beneficiaries can be for everyone involved. Whether you're an executor or beneficiary, you need to understand your options for resolving conflicts amicably and at a minimum cost. Our attorneys can help you handle your dispute or issue at hand and work toward achieving a peaceful resolution. Schedule a consultation today to discuss your legal matter.