Estate Planning: The Difference Between an Executor and an Administrator

When someone dies, someone has to administer his or her estate, regardless of whether he or she has a will in place or not. This person will ensure that any final debts and liabilities are paid and that beneficiaries receive what they should based on either the decedent’s will or intestate laws.

Technically speaking, there is little difference between the duties of an executor or an administrator. They will have the same responsibilities, but there are a few differences. The most important differences are how the individual gains his or her role and the “instructions” they must use to go through the probate administration process.

Appointing an Executor or Administrator

When someone dies without a will, someone must still administer the estate. The court will not take on this responsibility itself, but it will appoint someone to step into this role. This person is referred to as an administrator, or, occasionally, a personal representative. This person is accountable to the Court in a way that executors are not.

When you have a will, part of the document will include a specific designation for the individual that you would like to administer your estate. When you have chosen your own administrator, there is no need for the court to appoint one. This person is referred to as an “executor.”

There are situations where an individual’s will does not name an executor. In those cases, the court will also have to appoint an administrator as well. Technically, you do not have to name an executor in your will, but many people take comfort in knowing that the person they appoint will act with their beneficiaries’ best interests or the decedent’s wishes in mind.

Rules Governing the Role of the Executor or Administrator

The administrator will look to California intestate laws regarding how he or she should distribute your assets. For example, the most common people to whom your assets will go are generally your spouse and your children. Nonetheless, intestate laws specifically dictate what portion of your assets will go to which beneficiaries. An administrator must know and understand these rules to properly distribute any assets in the estate after all of the bills are paid.

The executor has a slightly easier role because the “rules” that he or she must follow are specifically set out in the decedent’s will. There is no need to look to California intestate laws unless there is a problem with the will or a dispute that invalidates the will. Once the debts are paid, the executor will distribute assets according to the will’s directions.

Both roles must go through the time-consuming and often complicated steps of inventorying and appraising the decedent’s assets. Both roles must also manage the property in the estate during the administrative process as well.

Whether you have been appointed as an executor or an administrator, having help with probate process from an experienced attorney is a good idea. Call Biddle Law today!