Who Administers Estates When Someone Dies or Needs Representation?

Estate administration includes several kinds of fiduciaries, people who administer the assets or property of another person. The type of fiduciary often depends upon the deceased's will and heirs. If an individual did not leave a will or cannot administer his or her own assets, the probate court assigns someone to administer that person’s assets or property.

In some cases, one or more people work together to administer an estate. In other cases, one individual can fulfill multiple fiduciary roles. For example, one person can be named both executor and trustee. The following are types of estate administrators who make decisions about assets or property of other individuals:

  • The executor is the person named in the will to “execute” the will — to carry out the wishes of the person making the will, including disposing of the property according to the will. A female executor is sometimes referred to as an executrix.

  • The administrator is a person appointed by the probate court to administer the decedent’s estate when the decedent left no valid will. A female administrator may be referred to as an administratrix.

  • The personal representative is a general term for both the executor and the administrator. In some states, this term is used in place of executor or administrator.

  • A guardian is the person appointed by the probate court to take care of the person and the property of another person who is considered incapable of taking care of his or her own affairs because of his or her age (usually a minor) or for other reasons such as mental illness, mental retardation, physical incapacity, or illness.

  • A conservator is similar to a guardian, but with less restrictive rules than those for a guardian. For example, the probate court may appoint a conservator for someone who can’t properly care for his or her property due to mental weakness or physical incapacity, for a person missing in action or a prisoner of war, or for a person with an intellectual disability.

A probate court rarely appoints a conservator for an estate, especially if you’ve already been appointed as executor or administrator; however, you may find yourself dealing with an already-appointed conservator of an estate beneficiary.

Just because you’re all working with the same set of assets doesn’t mean you belong to the same team. As executor or administrator, you’re only responsible for the property owned by the decedent; a beneficiary’s conservator is responsible for the beneficiary’s interest.

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