The estate of an individual is comprised of all personal property, real property, investments and all other assets he owns during his lifetime. When a person dies, his estate is governed by either his last will and testament or, if he had no estate planning documents, by his state's laws of intestacy. Although both his executor and his beneficiaries play a role in the decedent's estate, not everyone has rights to it.
A beneficiary is the person or entity designated to receive the assets in a decedent's estate. A decedent is a deceased person. An estate is the assets owned by a deceased person minus any outstanding debts. An executor is the person or entity designated by the decedent or the court to administer the distribution of the estate. An executor may also be known as an executrix (if it is a woman) or a personal representative. Intestacy is the condition of dying without a will. The distribution of a decedent's estate if he has no will or other estate planning documents is governed by the intestacy laws in the state in which he lived. The Last Will and Testament, or the will, is a document created by the decedent during his lifetime in which he designates the executor and the beneficiaries of the estate.
The Executor's Rights
The executor of an estate has no rights to the estate itself. The only right to the estate held by the executor is the right to charge a reasonable amount for his services in the administration and distribution of the estate to the beneficiaries. It is possible, however, that the executor of the estate can also be a named beneficiary.
The Beneficiaries' Rights
The beneficiary or beneficiaries are those who have rights to the ultimate distribution of the estate assets as laid out by the language in the decedent's will. The will may specify that a beneficiary is to receive a set dollar amount of the estate. This is known as a specific bequest. The decedent may also have drawn his will to state that a beneficiary is to receive a percentage of the estate. This is known as a residuary bequest. The residuary bequests of an estate must equal 100 percent, whether given to one beneficiary or divided among many.
Naming a beneficiary of a will as the executor of the estate is entirely legal. There may be a conflict of interest, or at least an appearance of such, in doing so if the individual is not a member of the decedent's family. According to LectLaw.com, one way to eliminate this conflict of interest is to provide in the will that the person designated as the executor/beneficiary must agree to waive any executor fees for estate administration. This will eliminate any double benefit such an individual would receive.