Understanding Beneficiary Rights in Florida: Why Professional Help Matters


In estate planning, a “beneficiary” is someone legally entitled to receive benefits from a will, trust, life insurance policy, or retirement account. In Florida, beneficiary rights are crucial for ensuring assets are correctly distributed according to the decedent’s wishes. These rights have a lot of overlap with those of an heir, but there are some slight differences. 

Understanding Florida Beneficiary Rights

Beneficiaries have more rights than just receiving assets. Under Florida law, they are entitled to numerous protections and privileges. For example, a beneficiary of a will has the right to receive distributions of estate assets, while a trust’s beneficiary receives disbursements of trust assets or income. Similarly, beneficiaries of life insurance policies or retirement accounts are entitled to the policy’s payout or account upon the owner’s death.

Rights of Beneficiaries and Heirs in Florida Probate

There is a distinction between an “heir” and a “beneficiary” in Florida probate law. A beneficiary is named in a will and has the right to receive assets through it. An heir inherits under state intestate succession laws if there is no will. Both heirs and beneficiaries have the right to be informed about the estate administration, receive notices of important events, and get an accounting of the estate.

Beneficiaries can also object to certain matters, such as creditor claims or the personal representative’s actions. They have the right to petition the court for clarification or removal of a personal representative who is acting improperly.

Rights of Trust Beneficiaries in Florida

Trust beneficiaries enjoy many similar rights to probate beneficiaries. Trustees must administer trusts in good faith and in accordance with the best interests of the beneficiaries. This includes avoiding conflicts of interest, managing expenses reasonably, and acting impartially. Beneficiaries have the right to be kept informed about the trust administration, receive annual accountings, and hold trustees accountable for any mismanagement.

Florida Beneficiary Contractual Rights

Beneficiaries of instruments like Payment on Death (POD) accounts, Transfer on Death (TOD) accounts, retirement accounts, and life insurance policies hold significant rights. These accounts and policies generally bypass probate, allowing beneficiaries to access assets directly. For instance, POD and TOD designations ensure assets transfer immediately to the beneficiary upon the owner’s death, avoiding probate delays.

Similarly, life insurance proceeds typically don’t go through probate, provided the named beneficiaries are available to receive the payout. This means beneficiaries deal directly with the insurance company, and the proceeds are not considered probate assets. However, if no beneficiary is named or the beneficiaries are unavailable, the proceeds may go to the probate estate, where they are used to cover remaining bills and costs. Understanding these rights ensures beneficiaries can effectively manage and protect the assets they are entitled to receive.

The Importance of Professional Help

While personal representatives and trustees have fiduciary duties to the beneficiaries, it is crucial for beneficiaries to seek professional help to ensure their rights are fully protected. Our firm does not only represent personal representatives; we also represent beneficiaries in estate and trust matters. This dual representation ensures that beneficiaries’ interests are safeguarded against any potential conflicts or mismanagement.

Seeking Professional Assistance

Navigating beneficiary rights can be complex. Professional guidance helps in understanding and exercising these rights effectively. Whether it’s disputing a personal representative’s actions, ensuring fair treatment by a trustee, or managing the inheritance from a POD account, an experienced attorney can provide the necessary support.

For professional assistance in understanding and protecting your beneficiary rights, contact us for a complimentary consultation by visiting markmosslaw.com or calling us at (904) 329-7242.