A beneficiary is an individual or entity to whom a decedent bequeaths real and personal property, financial instruments like houses, land stocks, bonds and annuities, liquid financial assets, cash or other of the many asset types. As a beneficiary to an estate you have certain legal rights that must be upheld by the law. A will or a living trust defines the decedent’s intended beneficiaries and the inheritance that they are to receive (a trust avoids probate and a will does not; see wills vs living trusts).  Named beneficiaries have certain legal rights to the estate and their inheritable assets.  However, beneficiaries are not necessarily entitled to anything beyond what the decedent bequeathed to them, and a beneficiary may even have limited rights in some situations.  With a will a beneficiary, family member, or disinherited child can easily contest the will during probate.  You should keep in mind that a current and properly funded and executed living trust is much harder to contest since a living trust is a private document while a will is a filed public document.

Designation and Inheritance

During the time that the estate of the decedent is being handled it is important for the executor or executrix to inform all beneficiaries of their inheritance. A beneficiary is entitled to know that a will names them as a beneficiary, along with the full inheritance the decedent assigned to them.  The executor or executrix is obliged to notify the beneficiary that they are named within the will, and to provide them with information regarding what they are to receive.  However, the beneficiary is not entitled to receive, appraise or view their inheritance until surrogates court has concluded the probate process.

Reasonable Diligence

The executor has fiduciary obligation to the beneficiaries to exercise reasonable diligence when administering the estate.  While state probate laws define what constitutes “reasonable,” in general, the executor should transfer ownership of all beneficiaries’ inheritance within a year after the decedent’s passing. If the executor requires additional time, he must provide the beneficiaries with a reason for the delay. Otherwise, the beneficiaries may petition the adjudicating court to appoint a new executor, who can assume responsibility for dividing the estate’s assets accordingly.

Protect Your Loved Ones With a Proper Estate Plan

In order to preserve your beneficiaries’ right you will need to proceed with your estate plan wisely to avoid costly estate litigation matters, as there are strict laws guiding certain legal documents, such as wills and living trusts.  Don’t wait till it is too late to plan your estate.  The sooner you obtain legal counsel and guidance, the more secure your children’s inheritance will be.  The attorneys at The Christine Thea Rubinstein Law Firm are not only trained in handling simple estate, will and probate matters, we take care of complex living trust estate litigation and we litigate to protect the rights of beneficiaries in Nassau County, Suffolk County, Queens County, Bronx, Westchester, Richmond County, Manhattan and Brooklyn Kings County New York.  The attorneys at The Christine Thea Rubinstein Law Firm litigate cases in the Surrogate’s Courts, Federal District Courts, New York Supreme Courts, the Appellate Divisions and the New York Court of Appeals.

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General Beneficiary and Estate Facts

A common misconception holds that all of the beneficiaries have a right to information about the entire estate’s assets, interests, accounts and other general information.  However, beneficiaries have no right to any information beyond the inheritance they are to receive as defined by a will (or through probate avoidance with a living trust).  While a beneficiary can obtain a copy of the will during probate, the executor, executrix or trustee is under no obligation to furnish a copy or provide any information about the estate, including other beneficiaries’ inheritance.


Abatement is the process of liquidating an estate’s assets to cover its outstanding liabilities.  An estate faces abatement when it holds more debt than it owns in disposable assets, and beneficiaries can lose some or all of their inheritance in the process.  In this situation, a beneficiary’s rights come second to the rights of any creditors, as the estate’s liability to its creditors supersedes anything else.  The estate cannot bequeath property or assets it does not own, so it must settle its outstanding claims before the court can determine what is lefts to distribute amongst the living beneficiaries.  Although most states first liquidate any assets not specifically assigned to a beneficiary, assigned property and cash are not exempt from abatement. In the event that part of the beneficiaries’ inheritance covers the estate’s liabilities, the court divides the remaining assets by percentage, with each beneficiary receiving a share that is equal to the inheritance the decedent defined.  If the estate breaks even after covering its liabilities, or takes a loss, the beneficiaries are entitled to nothing and receive no inheritance. Speak with a lawyer before you make any estate settlement decisions. The Christine Thea Rubinstein Law Firm can settle any open creditor claims against the estate for pennies on the dollar.

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About the Website of The Christine Thea Rubinstein Law Firm and the legal information on the screen above: We hope you find this information useful and informative, but it is not the same as legal counsel. A free website is ultimately worth everything it costs you; you rely on it at your own risk. This website and any other website on this legal topic does not substitute real legal advice, face to face with an attorney. Good legal advice includes a review of all of the facts of your situation, including many that may at first glance seem to you not to matter. The plan it generates is sensitive to your goals and wishes while taking into account a whole panoply of laws, rules and practices, many not published online. Speak with an attorney today to help resolve any legal issues that you and your family may be facing.

We are dedicated to your success, so Contacts us.  Speak with one of our knowledgeable Long Island will and estate planning litigation, living trust estate litigation, beneficiary rights protection and litigation attorneys today from wherever you are in New York in Nassau and Suffolk, Brooklyn, Kings and Queens Counties, on Long Island and all New York City boroughs including Bronx, Westchester, Richmond County, and Manhattan.

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You should know you have certain legal rights and must be very selective of the lawyer or law firm that you chose to represent you. Have an attorney council you on the right decision for you and your family.