Executor vs. Administrator: What is the Difference?

When you pass away, there will be someone in charge of handling the appropriate distribution of your assets and property. Whether or not this person is an executor or an administrator will depend on you having a will at the time of your passing.

So is An Executor and an Administrator the Same Thing?

The question above can be answered with “yes” and “no”. The duties of the executor named in the will and the duties of a court-appointed administrator of an estate are the same. However, the way in which an executor and administrator are appointed is where the key difference lies.

As indicated above, when creating a will, an individual will select someone that he or she trusts to be the executor of the will. On the other hand, if a person dies without having a will, their estate is considered an “intestate estate”, and the assets and property from that estate will be distributed by the probate court. The person handling this distribution is an administrator.

The executor must follow the terms set out in the will – i.e. distributing the assets and property to the appropriate parties the decedent (the deceased individual) selected.

Conversely, an administrator will distribute any assets or property the decedent had according to whom the probate court deems should have those assets or property.

What Else Does an Executor and/or Administrator Do?

Before the decedent’s assets and property can be distributed, the executor or administrator must first gather all of the assets and property the decedent had. Following this process, the executor or administrator must pay off any outstanding debts and taxes the decedent had. After this is done, then the estate can be properly distributed, whether to those named in the will or distributed based on the ruling of the probate court.

How Does the Probate Court Know Who Should Receive What Property and/or Assets?

Since they do not have a will to work with, the court-appointed administrator will need to find any and all potential heirs to the estate. After this is completed, the administrator will determine who is entitled to which portions of the estate. While this may sound straightforward, there are instances in which heirs to the estate will challenge their inheritance.

Is the Process the Same in Every State?

In general, states tend to have similar laws regarding the distribution of assets and property from an estate. However, this is not to say the laws are the same in every state. For example, in New York, an estate may not be closed in less than seven months, while in Virginia, this process may take anywhere from six months to longer.

Is it Better to Have a Will and Executor Rather than an Administrator Appointed by the Court?

It is in your best interest to have a valid will upon your death. Doing so will allow for you to determine to whom your assets and property should be handed down to when you pass away.

Passing away without a valid will can lead to a long probate process, which in turn can lead to conflict amongst your loved ones.

If you are looking to create or update a will, or any other estate planning services, we are here to help assist you. Contact us today to learn more about how we can work with your estate planning and elder law matters.

For more information about estate planning and elder law, view our resources page, which includes previous blog posts, our monthly newsletter and our webinar series.

Image by Mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

About the Author

Alyssa Marie Monteleon, Esq.

Alyssa Marie Monteleon is an elder law and estate planning attorney at the Monteleon Law Group, PLLC with offices in New York and Virginia. For more information, please visit www.monteleonlaw.com or call (914) 840-2529.

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