Can an Executor Override a Beneficiary?

An executor can override a beneficiary if they need to do so to follow the terms of the will. Executors are legally required to distribute estate assets according to what the will says. This means that if a beneficiary disagrees with the distribution in the will or other terms the executor can — and must — disregard the beneficiary’s desires to carry out the will’s requirements.  If a dispute arises, then an executor should petition the court for instructions, and that court order will then control how the issue is resolved.

Can an executor override a beneficiary?

Yes, an executor can override a beneficiary’s wishes as long as they are following the will or, alternative, any court orders.

Executors have a fiduciary duty to the estate beneficiaries requiring them to distribute estate assets as stated in the will. This means that an executor can override a beneficiary’s wishes if those wishes contradict the express terms of the will. 

If a situation is unclear, an executor should get direction from legal counsel and, if necessary, the probate court.



Can beneficiaries override an executor?

No, beneficiaries cannot override an executor unless the executor breaches fails to follow the will and breaches their fiduciary duty.

While beneficiaries can often disagree with an executor’s decisions, unless the executor clearly violates the terms of the will or breaches their fiduciary duty, there is typically nothing a beneficiary can do about it. In most situations, beneficiaries can’t override a legally-appointed executor just because they don’t like the decisions they are making.

However, if a beneficiary believes that the executor is not following the terms of the will,  they have the legal right to ask the court to appoint a new executor. Typically, the court won’t remove an executor unless the beneficiary can prove misconduct or incompetence. 

Beneficiaries who suspect that an executor is violating the will or their fiduciary duty should seek the counsel of a skilled probate litigation lawyer as soon as possible to make sure the wishes of the decedent are followed before too much harm has been done.

Can an executor override a will?

No, an executor cannot override or modify the terms of a will, with few exceptions. 

In fact, as a fiduciary to the estate beneficiaries, executors are legally required to abide by the will throughout the probate process, including the distribution of assets to the named beneficiaries of the will. Except in very limited situations where will terms cannot be followed, an executor cannot override the intent of the will to change the distribution scheme or remove a beneficiary. 

What is an executor of an estate?

The executor of an estate is usually nominated in a will, or, where there is no will, appointed by the court based on statutory preference under the probate code.  Executors are responsible for handling the deceased’s estate, putting the will into action, and working through the probate process. 

Duties of an executor include:

  • Marshalling estate assets
  • Paying the estate’s debts and taxes
  • Distributing the estate’s assets and property as dictated by the will

Under California law, any person who is 18 or older and has not been judicially determined to be incapacitated can serve as the executor of an estate. While executors are often close relatives or family friends, some people opt to select a disinterested third party as the executor of their estate. If the executor is a family member, they often also are a beneficiary of the will.

Can the executor of estate be changed?

Yes, California law allows the executor of an estate to be changed in certain situations. According to California Probate Code §8502, executors can be removed if:

  • They waste, embezzle, mismanage, or commit fraud against the estate, or evidence shows that they are about to do so.
  • They are found to be unable to properly execute their duties or are otherwise unqualified to serve.
  • They wrongfully neglect the estate or fail to perform duties over a period of time.
  • They need to be removed to protect the estate or interested parties.
  • There is another cause for removal under California law.

If an executor’s fitness is challenged, the probate court will conduct a hearing to determine whether they should be removed and who then should serve as executor. Interested people (like the deceased’s spouse, beneficiaries, heirs, creditors, and possible alternate executors) can participate in the hearing. If the judge believes there are grounds for removing the executor, they can terminate the appointment and appoint their replacement. 

Do I need an estate lawyer near me to challenge an executor?

If you have an estate dispute, hiring the best attorney familiar with the local probate court where your case is going to be heard and decided often will get you the best result.  Hiring someone local can be logistically favorable, but the reality is that familiarity with the court and its judges, processes and rules will help move your case along more efficiently and cost-effectively, getting you a result sooner and likely for less legal spend.

Have questions? We’re happy to discuss.

Call (424) 320-9444 or email [email protected]

Read More:

The California Guide to Removing an Executor of Estate

The Guide to Family Trust Embezzlement

The Penalty for Stealing from an Estate

What to Do If a Will or Trust Was Changed

About RMO, LLP

RMO LLP provides personal and efficient inheritance dispute services to individual and institutional clients. The firm’s attorneys focus on probate litigation involving contested trust, estate, probate, and conservatorship matters. Serving California and Texas, with offices in Los Angeles, Pasadena, Orange County, San Diego, Fresno, the Bay Area, Dallas, and Houston. For more information, please visit

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About the Author

Scott Rahn, Founding Partner

Scott Rahn resolves contests, disputes and litigation related to trusts, estates and conservatorships, creating a welcome peace of mind for clients. He represents heirs, beneficiaries, trustees and executors. He utilizes his experience to develop and implement strategies that swiftly and efficiently address the financial issues, fiduciary duties and emotional complexities underlying trust contests, estates conflicts and probate litigation.

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