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What Is the Difference Between an Executor and an Administrator?


When someone dies, their assets become part of their “estate.” After death, someone has to be appointed to manage the decedent’s (the legal term for a deceased person) estate. The person in charge of administering a decedent’s estate is either an executor or administrator. The roles and responsibilities of an executor are the same as those of an administrator. However, there is a difference in how executors and administrators are appointed. It is crucial that you understand this difference. Below, we discuss the difference between an executor and an administrator.

Who Is an Executor?

An executor manages the estate of a decedent. An executor is an individual named in the decedent’s Will as the person to carry out the decedent’s last wishes. A Will can name one executor, or it can name more than one person as executor.

A testator (the legal term for a person who has made a Will) can name anyone as executor as long as they meet the legal requirements. In California, for example, for someone to serve as executor, they must be at least 18 years old and of sound mind. In California, in-state and out-of-state executors are both allowed. Additionally, unlike some states, California does not prohibit a convicted felon from serving as an executor.

Who Is an Administrator?

Just like an executor, an administrator manages a decedent’s estate. However, an administrator is appointed by the probate court in cases where the decedent did not leave behind a Will. Usually, the court chooses who will serve as administrator in order of priority. In California, surviving spouses are given top priority, followed by children, grandchildren, other issues (such as great-grandchildren), parents, siblings, issues of siblings, and grandparents.

What Are the Duties of a Personal Representative?

Executors and administrators are known as personal representatives. As already mentioned, the work of an administrator is generally the same as that of an executor. The following are some of the primary duties of a personal representative;

  • Identifying and gathering the decedent’s assets
  • Preserving the decedent’s assets
  • Appraising the decedent’s assets
  • Sending notices to creditors
  • Paying any debts owed by the decedent, funeral costs, and administration expenses
  • Maintaining an account of financial activity
  • Preparing and filing tax returns
  • Distributing inheritances to beneficiaries or heirs
  • Closing the estate

The only difference in how administrators and executors perform their work is that while an executor bases inheritance division decisions on the decedent’s Will, an administrator bases their decisions on statute.

For a simple estate, a personal representative’s work can be very straightforward. However, often, the probate process is not straightforward. For example, an administrator might have difficulty locating a decedent’s heirs. Fortunately, probate attorneys are available to offer help to personal representatives. A probate lawyer can guide a personal representative throughout the entire probate process.

What if There Is No Executor Named in the Will or the Named Executor Is Unable To Act?

If there is no executor named in a Will or the person named in the Will as executor is unable to act, the court will follow the order of preference under law to appoint an administrator.

Contact The Probate Guy

If you have any probate-related questions, contact the skilled and dedicated California probate lawyer, Robert L. Cohen – the Probate Guy – today to schedule a telephonic consultation.

Southern California Probate Lawyer Serving Orange, Riverside, Anaheim, Whittier & Beyond.

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