The Beneficiary Doesn’t Want the Bequest. Now What?

A well-meaning individual decides to give a friend or relative something of theirs in a will.  In their will, they name you as executor of the estate.  Doing your executor duty, you notify the recipient of the bequest and that’s when the problems arise.  The beneficiary tells you that they don’t want the distribution.  What do you do?

When it comes to unwanted bequests, we’ve seen it all–from the weird (Victorian hair art comes to mind) to the just plain impractical (a car for someone who doesn’t drive).  And there are even cases where a beneficiary is given all or a large portion of an entire estate but does not want anything to do with it.  If you encounter this as part of your executor role, it could give you a lot of undue stress.  You were prepared for completing your executor duties through the distribution of assets and estate closing, but this is a major and unexpected hurdle.  Fear not. Here are some tips to help you think through the implications of unwanted bequests.  

Disclaim/Disclaimer Happens

Not everyone who receives a bequest accepts it.  Often this happens when a beneficiary needs to avoid the claims a creditor would have on their assets received in a will or for tax purposes.  But sometimes it happens because the named beneficiary just has no interest in the items given.  

Here’s the bottom line for the executor role–the person who disclaims their bequest is treated as if they died before the will writer.  This means that you follow the instructions of the will to see who the next beneficiary in line for the items is.  

Don’t Want the Items, Do Want the Cash

Let’s say that the deceased had a boat, that they gave to their niece.  She has no interest in owning a boat, but could definitely use the money from the sale of the boat.  Is she out of luck? Not at all.  She does not have to give up her bequest.  She simply needs to accept the bequest and sell the boat, pocketing the money from the sale.  But if she asks if you can sell the boat for you, you need to say no.  That is not part of your executor duties.  You distribute the items in the estate according to the will and following the probate court’s instructions.  You should not take on extra tasks like this for the beneficiaries.  Those are their responsibility, not yours as executor.  

This principle holds true even when much more than a boat is involved.  Even when the bequest is for a house and all of its contents, it still holds true.  Unless there are other applicable provisions in the will, the executor should distribute the bequest according to will and instructions of the probate court. The beneficiary can do whatever they want with the items (even throwing them away or giving them to someone else).  You’ve done your executor duty when you follow the will’s instructions for distribution. You should not stress about what happens after that.  

Executor.org is a free, comprehensive online resource that helps executors manage their duties in this complex role. This is the best online tool for executors and includes a helpful step-by-step interactive guide and invaluable tips on everything from planning a funeral and keeping beneficiaries happy to dealing with grief and managing estate assets