Administrator v. Executor of a Will

Administrator v. Executor of a Will

When it comes to managing the estate of a recently deceased person, the roles of an executor and an administrator are of paramount importance. These terms are often used interchangeably, but in the realm of estate administration, they serve distinct functions. Understanding the difference between an executor and an administrator is crucial for those involved in the estate planning process and for those who may find themselves tasked with these responsibilities.

This blog post explains the key differences between an executor and an administrator in the context of a probate estate in New York. At Ely J. Rosenzveig & Associates, we believe that every client should understand as much as possible about how the New York probate process functions and how they can maximize their control over how their estate is managed after their death.

Managing the Affairs of a Probate Estate

An executor and an administrator are both individuals responsible for handling the affairs of a deceased person’s estate. However, their appointment and authority differ significantly.


An executor is an individual named in the deceased’s last will and testament, specifically chosen by the deceased to administer the estate after their death. This person’s appointment comes into effect upon the testator’s death. The testator outlines the executor’s duties and responsibilities within the terms of the will, providing them with the legal authority to manage the decedent’s estate according to their express instructions.


An administrator is a person appointed by the court when the deceased has not left behind a valid will or when the named executor is unable or unwilling to fulfill their duties. The court will generally appoint a close relative or another interested party to act as the administrator, granting them the authority to manage the estate according to the laws of intestacy, which dictate how assets are distributed in the absence of a will.

Different Sources of Authority

An executor and an administrator share similar roles in terms of managing an estate’s assets, debts, and distributions. However, there are distinctions in their authority and scope of duties.

Administrator v. Executor of a Will
An executor may have a slightly smoother experience than an administrator because well-drafted wills often identify the decedent’s major assets, real estate, financial accounts, and other significant valuable holdings. Even so, the executor must carry out a thorough search based on the documents they obtain to find any other potential estate assets.

The executor’s powers and responsibilities are laid out explicitly in the deceased’s will. Their authority is derived from the will itself, and they are legally bound to follow the will’s specific instructions. The executor’s primary duty is to carry out the testator’s wishes as faithfully as possible, to ensure that the estate’s assets are distributed to the designated beneficiaries, and to settle any outstanding debts or obligations of the estate.

In contrast, the administrator’s powers are granted by the court, which means that they must adhere strictly to the New York laws of intestacy and the court’s directions. Unlike an executor, an administrator does not have a specific document outlining their duties and responsibilities. That’s why they are subject to more oversight from the court during the process of administering estate.

Who Can Be Named as Executor or Appointed as Administrator?

Accepting the role of executor or being appointed by the court as an administrator of an estate involves substantial responsibilities that require serious, prudent actions for which you can be held legally accountable.

In New York, a person designated as an executor of a will must meet the following criteria:

  • Must be at least 18 years old,
  • Has not been declared incapacitated by the court,
  • No history of felony convictions (somewhat more flexible recently),
  • A U.S. citizen or a non-U.S. citizen living in New York, with the approval of the court,
  • Additional restrictions may be applied for those with a history of substance abuse, fiscal mismanagement.

An estate administrator in New York is subject to similar eligibility criteria.

The Job

An executor may have a slightly smoother experience than an administrator because well-drafted wills often identify the decedent’s major assets, real estate, financial accounts, and other significant valuable holdings. Even so, the executor must carry out a thorough search based on the documents they obtain to find any other potential estate assets.

Wills usually ease the executor’s tasks by spelling out precisely whom the decedent wanted to receive their assets. These “devisees” are named in the will or described in terms of their relationship to the decedent in such a way that their identities are easily determined.

While every probate estate that passes through the New York Surrogate’s Court might become contested, there are effective procedures in place to minimize unfounded will contests.

Administrators must work without the benefit of a will. often creating a more complex process to be sure they’ve located every potential estate asset. When there is no will left by a decedent, New York law provides that an estate’s assets be distributed to family members according to their closeness in relationship to them. For an administrator, the absence of a will can make the estate administration process more complicated and time-consuming. The court’s involvement and adherence to intestacy laws can introduce delays and potential disputes among potential heirs, leading to a more protracted administration process.

Since the executor has clear instructions from the deceased, the estate administration process can be more streamlined. The time it takes to complete the process largely depends on the complexity of the estate.

While both executors and administrators play critical roles in estate management, the key distinction lies in their appointment, authority, and scope of duties. An executor derives their powers from a valid will, allowing them to fulfill the testator’s wishes, whereas an administrator is appointed by the court when there is no will or a named executor is unavailable. Understanding these differences is essential for individuals engaged in estate planning and for those who may assume these responsibilities in the future, ensuring a smoother and more efficient administration process.

Consulting an Experienced Estate and Probate Attorney Is Essential

Unless the person designated as executor or appointed as administrator has extensive experience or formal legal training, a highly skilled estate planning and probate attorney should be hired at the outset of the process to ensure that every formality is observed and all rules are followed.

Unhappy or disappointed family members may challenge the decisions or processes undertaken by the person managing the estate’s affairs. It’s important for the integrity of the person in a position of responsibility to protect themselves and to ensure as best they can an estate administration that is managed efficiently and effectively for all concerned. The attorneys at Ely. J. Rosenzveig & Associates have the skill and experience to assist you in all aspects of this challenging process.

Contact Ely J. Rosenzveig & Associates for Estate or Probate Issues
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Ely J Rosenzveig
Ely Rosenzveig

Ely J. Rosenzveig practices principally in the fields of elder law, trusts & estates, tax planning, employment law, and mediation. He has extensive experience in federal and New York State tax law, and has successfully represented a wide range of clients on FBAR & FATCA compliance issues. Ely also practices employment law, with a particular emphasis on age and disability discrimination, negotiating compensation agreements, and severance issues. With his extensive background in the law, his experience as a congregational rabbi, and his specialized training in Mediation at Harvard Law School, Ely is also available as a professional mediator to help facilitate optimal solutions in matters ranging from family and estate disputes to multi-party commercial issues.

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