The difference between an executor and an administrator

06 April 2021

Executors and administrators are responsible for administering the estate of someone who has died. They are known collectively as 'personal representatives' so, how are they different?


An executor is someone who was chosen by the person who died to deal with their estate. An executor is appointed by being named in the Will. By making a Will and appointing an executor, the person making the Will can name someone they trust to carry out their wishes after they die.

If there is something unusual to deal with in the estate, special executors can be appointed to deal with that part of the estate. For example, someone with specialist knowledge might be appointed to deal with a business asset.

The executor’s authority is taken from the Will and comes into effect immediately when the person who made the Will dies. The executor has a lot of responsibilities, including dealing with the assets in the estate, paying taxes, settling debts and distributing the inheritance to the beneficiaries.

It's likely the executor will need to apply for a grant of probate to carry out some of their duties. This is a legal document from the Probate Registry, which gives the executor legal authority to deal with the estate.

More than one person can be named as an executor in a Will, but a maximum of four executors can take out a grant of probate. If there is more than one executor named in the Will, they don't all have to act. If any of the executors named in the will aren't going to be named on the grant of probate, they need to be notified before the grant of probate is issued.


An administrator is appointed to deal with an estate if there isn't a Will (or if there is a Will but the executor is unable or unwilling to act). In these circumstances, an administrator has to be appointed by the court to deal with the estate administration. Inheritance rules called the rules of intestacy will determine who's entitled to act as the administrator.

The administrator may need to apply to the Probate Registry for a grant of letters of administration. This is a legal document which works in a very similar way to a grant of probate. It gives the named administrator legal authority to deal with the estate.

If multiple people are entitled to act as administrator under the rules of intestacy, any combination of these people can apply for a grant of letters of administration. However, no more than four people can apply, and they must all be over 18 and capable of acting.

If they don't apply together, the court will issue the grant of letters of administration to the first person to apply. The other people won't be notified of this.

If there is a Will but there is no executor appointed or able to act, an administrator will be granted letters of administration (with Will annexed). In this case, the administrator will be someone with an interest in the estate (usually a beneficiary, but it could be a creditor).

Duties of executors and administrators

Once an executor or administrator has been successfully appointed, their duties as personal representative will include:

  • collecting in the assets of the estate
  • paying the estate's debts and liabilities
  • calculating and paying inheritance tax
  • selling or transferring property and other assets
  • distribute the estate to the beneficiaries

The powers and responsibilities of executors and administrators are set out in law, but an executor may have their powers extended by the terms of the Will.

In summary, executors and administrators are appointed to do the same job, but they are appointed in different ways. Executors have authority from the date of death and their powers are taken from the Will, but administrators have no authority until they have been granted letters of administration by the xourt.

If someone has died and you need help with probate, contact us:

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