Does an Executor Have to Keep Beneficiaries Informed?

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Key Takeaways:

  • Executors have a duty to keep beneficiaries reasonably informed during estate administration.
  • Beneficiaries should proactively seek information from the executor about the estate.
  • What is “reasonable” information sharing can differ between executors and beneficiaries.
  • Executors must provide enough information for beneficiaries to understand estate assets, debts, and distribution.
  • Beneficiaries can petition the court if an executor is not communicating enough.


When a person passes away, their last will and testament designates an executor (also called a personal representative) who is responsible for carrying out the terms of the will and settling the estate. This involves tasks like collecting assets, paying debts and taxes, and eventually distributing remaining property to the will’s beneficiaries.

An executor has legal and ethical duties to the beneficiaries during this often lengthy process of estate administration. One key responsibility is to keep the beneficiaries reasonably informed about what is happening with the estate. However, perspectives on what constitutes “reasonable” communication can vary between executors and beneficiaries.

This comprehensive article will analyze the executor’s obligation to keep beneficiaries in the loop. It will cover what information must be shared, how often communication should occur, what recourse beneficiaries have if an executor is not providing enough updates, and tips for executors on maintaining open communication channels with beneficiaries. Gaining clarity on these issues can help minimize conflicts and ensure the estate administration process goes smoothly.

Understanding the executor’s communication responsibilities is vital whether you are currently serving as an executor, are a beneficiary waiting on an inheritance, or just want to plan ahead for your own estate. The in-depth information provided here will help equip you to handle this significant part of the estate settlement process.

What Details Must an Executor Share with Beneficiaries?

Executors are required to provide beneficiaries with enough information to reasonably understand what is happening with the estate during administration. But what specifically does this entail?

What Assets Are Included in the Estate?

One of the first things an executor must disclose is what property and assets are part of the probate estate. This gives beneficiaries an idea of what they may eventually inherit or benefit from.

Executors provide this asset information through a document called an inventory and appraisal, which must be filed with the probate court within 90 days in some states. It lists all of the estate’s assets and their fair market values at the time of death. For a house, jewelry, art, and other significant assets, a professional appraisal may be required for this inventory.

What Debts and Expenses Does the Estate Owe?

Executors should also inform beneficiaries about any debts owed by the estate, such as the deceased person’s credit card balances, mortgage, loans, and unpaid taxes. These liabilities will need to be paid off before assets can be distributed to beneficiaries.

Funeral costs, attorney fees, appraisal fees, court costs, and any other expenses related to administering the estate should also be communicated, as they will reduce the amount available for distribution. Periodic accountings filed with the court detailing all estate transactions help keep beneficiaries updated on these outflows.

How and When Will Assets Be Distributed?

In addition to listing assets and liabilities, the executor should provide information to help beneficiaries understand how and when distribution of property will occur.

  • Will certain beneficiaries receive specific bequests of property while others receive percentages of the residue?
  • Does the will outline any trusts or conditions on inheritances?
  • What is the executor’s plan for selling assets and settling debts prior to distribution?

Keeping beneficiaries informed on distribution logistics and timeframes helps set appropriate expectations.

How Often Should an Executor Communicate with Beneficiaries?

Beyond what information must be shared, executors also need to determine an appropriate cadence for communicating with beneficiaries. But how often is reasonable?

  • At a minimum, executors should provide major updates whenever significant milestones occur – like filing the inventory, selling a major asset, resolving a claim against the estate, or preparing to make preliminary or final distributions. Beneficiaries have a right to know about big developments.
  • Some executors choose to provide monthly or quarterly updates, especially if the estate administration involves a lot of activity or there are interested beneficiaries actively involved. Periodic check-ins show good faith.
  • For a smaller, simple estate with few beneficiaries, annual updates may suffice. The executor should determine what level of ongoing interaction the beneficiaries expect and deserve.
  • Written updates are prudent so there is a clear record of what information was provided and when. Email, letters, or an estate administration website can create transparency.

While the executor gets to decide what frequency of proactive communication is reasonable, beneficiaries can always ask questions and request updates at any time. The executor is obligated to respond in a timely manner.

What If the Executor Isn’t Sharing Enough Information?

Unfortunately, executors sometimes fail to keep beneficiaries adequately informed, whether intentionally or inadvertently. When this happens, what recourse do beneficiaries have?

Have a Frank Conversation with the Executor

If communication has been insufficient so far, the first step should be to have a direct conversation with the executor to share concerns, clarify expectations going forward, and try to resolve the issue cooperatively.

Perhaps the executor doesn’t realize certain information should have been disclosed or needs a reminder about beneficiary rights. A candid discussion may resolve any problems.

Send a Formal Request for Information

If a conversation doesn’t improve communication, the next step is to send the executor a formal written request for information. Be specific about what details are wanted and set a reasonable deadline for the executor to respond.

This formalizes the demand and creates a paper trail showing the executor was put on notice. It also provides possible ammunition if the executor continues stonewalling and the issue has to go before a judge later on.

File a Petition with the Probate Court

If an executor still refuses to communicate essential information after repeated requests, beneficiaries can file a petition with the probate court seeking an order to compel disclosure.

A petition should outline the information sought, past failed attempts to obtain it directly from the executor, and the harm or prejudice being suffered without it. The court can then order the executor to provide the requested details to beneficiaries.

This petition process holds executors accountable for breaching their duty. But it also creates added hassle and delays for beneficiaries awaiting their inheritance, and should be a last resort.

Tips for Executors to Maintain Open Communication

Serving as an executor is a big responsibility. While keeping beneficiaries informed might sometimes feel like a burden, doing it effectively protects your interests and minimizes complaints. Consider these tips:

  • Set communication expectations upfront by discussing preferences with beneficiaries early in the process.
  • Provide updates proactively at major milestones – don’t wait for beneficiaries to come to you.
  • Use written communication like email or estate administration platforms to create transparency.
  • Be comprehensive but concise in the information you share – include key details but avoid oversharing insignificant minutiae.
  • Respond promptly to beneficiary inquiries and information requests.
  • Keep your own detailed records of information provided to beneficiaries and when.
  • If conflict arises, remind beneficiaries that you are acting in good faith in the best interest of the estate.
  • Seek guidance from your probate attorney if beneficiaries become unreasonable in their demands.

Open communication allows executors to demonstrate their trustworthiness and commitment to properly administering the estate. This upholds their fiduciary duty and keeps the process running smoothly for all involved.


Executor communication with beneficiaries is a vital part of estate administration. Executors must provide enough information for beneficiaries to understand estate assets, debts, expenses, and distribution plans.

Ideally, the executor will share updates proactively as major events happen over the course of settling the estate. If beneficiaries feel information is lacking, they can request details directly from the executor or petition the probate court if necessary.

While perspectives on “reasonable” communication may differ, with the executor’s good faith effort and beneficiaries’ patience, estate administration can proceed with minimal conflict. Maintaining open and transparent communication channels benefits all involved in this often months-long process

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