What's the Difference Between an Estate Administrator and an Executor?
Summary: What happens to your hard-earned estate when you pass away? This question may be uncomfortable, but it's worth addressing.
Without a will, your estate may fall into the wrong hands. This risk is best exemplified by the roles of estate executor and estate administrator, which sound similar but hold significant differences. Below, we explain these roles — and why the differences between them underscore your need to draft a will.
If you draft a will, executor selection will be one of the most challenging and important tasks you face. The will's executor can hold several key responsibilities. These may include:
- Conducting an inventory of the estate
- Paying any remaining bills related to the estate
- Distributing the estate as specified in the will
- Carrying out any other specific instructions left in the will.
Basic requirements for serving as an executor in the state of Maryland include being 18 years old and of sound mind. Often, individuals convicted of 'serious' crimes such as embezzlement or extortion are barred from serving as executor.
Beyond official state requirements, you may hold personal preferences regarding who is most capable of administering your estate. Ideally, this person will be honest and dependable. Your executor holds the fiduciary duty to carry out all tasks related to your will and estate in good faith.
While estate administrators and executors hold several shared responsibilities, one significant difference sets these individuals apart: the administrator is not specifically identified by the creator of the will but, rather, is appointed by Maryland's probate court — commonly referred to as the Orphans' Court.
Administrator appointment typically occurs when the deceased individual has not created a will, but an administrator can also be appointed if the previously selected executor does not meet local requirements, withdraws from the role, or is removed by the Orphans Court.
Typically, administrators are appointed based on an established list of priority. If the deceased person has no will, the preference is for a surviving spouse or child to administer the estate. From there, priority for estate administration is as follows:
- If a will exists, the residuary legatee — any individual granted significant portions of the estate in the will — is appointed as administrator. This person could be a friend or a distant family member.
- If there is no will, any other relatives of the deceased, such as siblings, nieces, or nephews.
- The deceased individual's largest creditor.
Once appointed, the representative selected by the court is given letters of administration. These grant that person the power to administer the estate. If no will exists, distribution occurs based on the surviving heirs' relationship with the deceased individual. In cases in which the decedent has no will and no surviving relatives, his or her estate will go to “Escheat” to the State. This means the property will go to the County Board of Education for the jurisdiction in which it is administered, or the Maryland Department of Health. Md. Code, Estate and Trust Section 3-105.
Why Having an Estate Executor — And a Will — Matters
It's important to select a reliable executor, but simply naming somebody is not good enough. Your preferred executor will not hold any authority over your estate unless he or she is highlighted in your will. This, however, is just one of several essentials covered in this important document. In addition to selecting your executor, your will allows you to:
- Specify how and to whom you intend to distribute your estate
- Select a guardian for your children if they are not yet adults when you pass away
- Make charitable bequests.
If you have specific plans for your estate, you can't afford not to draft your will. This process can be emotionally draining, but the estate-planning actions you take now could impact you and your loved ones for years to come. Don't take your will lightly; by tackling this challenge, you can secure your legacy long after you pass away.
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