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The Key Differences Between Executor And Administrator – A Detailed Guide!

Administrator and executor terms are sometimes used interchangeably, especially by someone who doesn’t know much about law, but are they really the same? Although the duties of both executor and administrator are similar, they’re not the same.

The administrator is someone who is appointed by the court to administrate the estate matter. An executor is someone nominated by the deceased to administrate the estate and pass it to rightful heirs.

It’s also important to note that they are both appointed in different situations, which we’ll discuss below in detail. After reading this blog, you’ll be able to understand the main differences between executor and administrator and their responsibilities.

What Is The Difference Between An Executor and An Administrator?

One of the most important points about executors and administrators is that they’re nominated to administrate the estate, pay taxes, clear debts, and identify assets. They work in the best interest of the estate and beneficiaries. However, they are not the same, and here is why:

The Executor of An Estate

Most individuals who have an estate write a will in their lifetime. A will is a legal document created according to the wishes of the estate owner. It outlines who will be the beneficiary and what assets they will inherit after the death of the estate owner.

In this will, there is another important part: the estate owner also nominates executors (one or more) for the estate. These executors work according to the wishes of the deceased and the duties assigned to them.

The Administrator of An Estate

The administrator of an estate is different from the executor, even though they have the same responsibilities. The administrator is appointed when the deceased did not leave any will to follow for the estate.

The family members of the deceased will submit a death certificate to the court to begin the probate hearings. Once the proceedings begin, the court will nominate an administrator for the estate who will perform duties similar to those of the executor but as per state laws.

What Are the Duties of An Administrator and Executor?

Most of the responsibilities of an administrator and executor are the same, but there are also differences. You can understand their duties as follows:

Similar Duties of An Executor and Administrator

  • Assets Management: The main duty of an administrator and executor is to manage the estate. They identify and secure all the assets, including real estate, bonds, cash, investments, and personal belongings, and value the assets.
  • Paying Taxes: After identifying and securing the assets, both the administrator and executor are responsible for paying the taxes on the property.
  • Clearing Debts: It’s also important to clear any outstanding debts of the deceased by selling the assets. The beneficiaries only receive their share of the estate after paying taxes and debts.
  • Manage Legal Matters:  Estate management is a complex process. Sometimes, family members of the deceased may file a case in court. If there’s any legal matter like this, it is the responsibility of the executor or administrator to handle it.
  • Keeping Accurate Records: Both the administrator and executor must keep records of every transaction and decision made during the estate management process.

Main Difference In The Duties of An Executor and Administrator

Assets distribution is where the administrator and executor roles differ. The executor works according to the content of the will, not by law. For example, the executor will pass on the estate to the beneficiaries nominated in the will. 

In contrast, administrators are nominated when there’s no will, so they work according to state law. They pass the estate as per the state’s intestate law, which means the priority will be immediate family members, followed by extended family.

Who Is Entitled To Be An Administrator?

No single person is automatically entitled to be an administrator of the estate. Instead, anyone, such as a domestic partner or close family member of the deceased, can become an administrator.

To become an administrator, interested individuals must complete the DE-111 form. Once the form is completed and the petition goes to court, the judge will decide who will be the estate administrator and manage everything.

Remember, judges consider a priority list (Probate Code §8461) at the time of choosing an administrator. A surviving spouse or domestic partner will be a priority compared to children. Children will be a priority compared to grandchildren and deceased parents and siblings.

Can An Administrator Also Be A Beneficiary?

Yes, an administrator can also be a beneficiary of the estate. This means that the person managing the estate can also receive a portion of the assets as outlined in the will or as determined by state law if there is no will.

Being both an administrator and a beneficiary does not create a conflict of interest, as long as the administrator fulfills their duties responsibly and fairly distributes the estate according to the will or intestate laws.

Can I Remove The Administrator From The Estate?

Yes, it is possible to remove the estate administrator appointed by the court. However, to do this, you need solid reasons; it can’t be done based on personal likes or dislikes. If the administrator performs their duties well, the court may not remove them.

At the same time, if the administrator is not performing their duties or making decisions that benefit themselves or someone else unfairly, others can petition the court for their removal.

Final Words: Differences Between Executor & Administrator

An administrator and executor aren’t the same. They only have similar duties; an executor is nominated by the estate owner in the will, while an administrator is appointed by the court (only if there’s no will).

You can contact our experienced probate lawyers for more information. We’ll provide you with the guidance you need for estate planning and probate proceedings.

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Dustin MacFarlane’s primary focus is on Elder Law and protecting families and seniors. He is a Certified Specialist in Estate Planning, Trust, and Probate Law by the State Bar of California Board of Specialization — a rare distinction.

Prior to becoming an attorney, Mr. MacFarlane worked in the Long Term Care industry. After becoming licensed to practice law in January of 2009, Elder Law quickly became his focus. Seeing the need during his former career, Mr. MacFarlane pursued Elder Law as a primary area of practice.

By Dustin MacFarlane

Dustin MacFarlane’s primary focus is on Elder Law and protecting families and seniors. He is a Certified Specialist in Estate Planning, Trust, and Probate Law by the State Bar of California Board of Specialization — a rare distinction.

Prior to becoming an attorney, Mr. MacFarlane worked in the Long Term Care industry. After becoming licensed to practice law in January of 2009, Elder Law quickly became his focus. Seeing the need during his former career, Mr. MacFarlane pursued Elder Law as a primary area of practice.