San Diego Probate Attorney Answers: Do Executors Have To Follow A Will?

When it comes to administrating an estate, executors play a crucial role in carrying out the deceased’s final wishes as outlined in their will. Notwithstanding, questions may arise regarding the extent to which executors are obligated to follow the instructions in the will. In this essay, a San Diego probate attorney provides insights into the duties of executors and whether they are legally bound to adhere to the will’s provisions. Moreover, we aim to clarify this matter by exploring the legal framework, discussing executor responsibilities, and considering relevant factors.

Executor’s Role and Fiduciary Duty

Probate Attorney Steve Bliss.Executors serve as the deceased’s personal representatives and are entrusted with the responsibility of managing and distributing the estate’s assets. As fiduciaries, they are held to the highest standard of care and must act in the estate’s and its beneficiaries’ best interests. Nonetheless, executors have a legal duty to faithfully carry out the instructions outlined in the will, ensuring that the deceased’s wishes are respected. Consequently, the answer to this question is yes. Executors are legally obligated to follow the will. This is generally because wills are granted legal authority over the deceased’s estate. Executors are responsible for carrying out the wishes outlined in a will. If wills are not followed, executors and other estate fiduciaries may face personal liability for their actions.

Testamentary Intent and the Primacy of the Will

The cornerstone of probate law is testamentary intent, which upholds the testator’s wishes as expressed in their will. The will represents the legal document through which the testator outlines their desires for the distribution of their assets. Accordingly, executors have a legal obligation to give effect to these wishes and must not deviate from the will’s provisions unless directed by the court or in exceptional circumstances.

Legal Constraints on Executor Discretion

While executors generally must follow the will, certain legal constraints may impact their discretion. Ordinarily, for example, if the will is deemed invalid or is successfully contested, the executor may be required to follow an earlier will or the intestacy laws of the jurisdiction. Additionally, executors must adhere to applicable laws and regulations, ensuring compliance with tax obligations, creditors’ rights, and any specific legal requirements governing the estate administration process. Executors are generally responsible for acting in good faith and adhering to the wishes outlined in the will. Should beneficiaries or any other parties have reason to believe that the executor is not following the will, they have recourse to bring the matter to court, where the judge can issue a ruling or order.

Court Oversight and Judicial Discretion

In some cases, the court may exercise oversight and discretion over the actions of an executor. This typically occurs when there are disputes among beneficiaries, challenges to the validity of the will, or concerns regarding the executor’s performance. The court may intervene to ensure that the executor acts in accordance with the law and the best interests of the estate and its beneficiaries.

Balancing Executor Discretion with Testator Intent

While executors have specific responsibilities and legal obligations, they also possess some discretion in administrating the estate. This discretion may come into play when making decisions not explicitly addressed in the will or when faced with unforeseen circumstances. Executors are expected to exercise sound judgment and act in a manner that aligns with the overall intent of the testator, even if it requires making reasonable decisions not explicitly outlined in the will.

Seeking Professional Guidance and Court Approval

To navigate the complexities of estate administration and ensure compliance with legal requirements, executors are strongly encouraged to seek the guidance of a qualified probate attorney. Legal professionals can provide valuable advice, ensure adherence to the law, and guide executors through the decision-making process. In cases where uncertainties or conflicts arise, executors may seek court approval for their actions to ensure transparency and safeguard the interests of all parties involved.


Nonetheless, executors are generally legally obligated to follow the will’s provisions and fulfill the deceased’s wishes. However, specific legal constraints, court oversight, and exceptional circumstances may impact the extent of their discretion. This ensures the decedent’s wishes are respected and the estate assets adequately distributed. Beneficiaries and other stakeholders should ensure that the executor adheres to the will. If not, the beneficiary or party can bring the matter to court and seek a ruling.