Email FacebookTwitterMenu burgerClose thin

Personal Representative vs. Executor: Key Differences

A couple meets with an estate planning attorney to discuss their will and choice for executor.

Personal representatives are tasked with managing estates when people die, either according to the terms of their will or the state laws that govern certain successions. An executor is a type of personal representative who’s specifically designated in someone’s will to carry out their final wishes and distribute their assets. A financial advisor can be a valuable resource during the estate planning process and can even serve as an executor. 

What Is a Personal Representative?

Personal representatives are tasked with overseeing the distribution of the deceased person’s assets and settling their financial affairs – whether they left a will or not. 

When there’s a will in place, the personal representative is typically designated by the deceased and is known as an executor. In cases where there is no will, a personal representative is appointed by the court. 

It’s important for a personal representative to be well-organized, financially responsible and capable of handling legal and administrative tasks. They must act in the best interests of the estate and its beneficiaries, ensuring a fair and lawful distribution of assets. This role can be complex, often requiring legal assistance, so it’s crucial for personal representatives to understand their duties thoroughly to fulfill them effectively.

Types of Personal Representatives

When a person designates a personal representative in their will, the role is known as an executor.

While there are different types of personal representatives – including trustees, conservators and legal guardians – the term often refers to two particular roles when it comes to a person’s estate: executors and administrators.

While they essentially share the same responsibilities, executors and administrators differ in how they’re appointed. 


An executor, often designated in the deceased’s will, is someone chosen by the individual to carry out their final wishes and manage their estate. They are responsible for handling the deceased’s assets, paying debts and distributing the remaining assets to beneficiaries as outlined in the will.


An administrator, conversely, is a personal representative appointed by the court when there’s no will, the will is invalid or no executor is named. Unlike executors who follow the will, administrators distribute the estate according to state laws, known as intestacy succession laws. Their role is primarily centered around the lawful and orderly distribution of the deceased’s estate.

What Is Expected of a Personal Representative?

A couple discusses their estate plan.

A personal representative must adhere to the deceased’s last will and testament if one exists. This may involve locating and valuing assets, paying debts and distributing assets to beneficiaries according to the will’s instructions or the state intestacy laws. 

Transparency and accountability are paramount. Personal representatives must maintain meticulous records of all financial transactions related to the estate. This includes tracking income, expenses and taxes, and providing regular updates to beneficiaries.

Furthermore, personal representatives have a fiduciary duty to act in the best interests of the estate and its beneficiaries. They must avoid conflicts of interest and make prudent financial decisions.

Lastly, a personal representative should be prepared for potential legal proceedings. Beneficiaries or creditors may contest the administration of the estate, and the personal representative may need to defend their actions in court.

Bottom Line

In the evolving journey of estate planning, understanding the roles of personal representatives – both executors, and administrators – is vital. Their roles are crucial in an orderly distribution of assets. Personal representatives look to prevent potential disputes among beneficiaries and ensure the deceased’s wishes are met or an estate is managed according to state laws. 

Estate Planning Tips

  • Strategic gifting can help wealthy people potentially reduce or eliminate their estate tax liability. In 2023, the IRS permits you to give up to $17,000 per person per year ($34,000 for married couples). By gifting assets to family, friends and charitable causes while you’re still alive, you can reduce the size of your estate below the $12.92 million estate tax threshold ($25.84 for married couples). Estates that exceed this limit are subject to federal estate tax rates that range from 18% to 40%.
  • A financial advisor with estate planning expertise can help you navigate this complex process. Finding a financial advisor doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to three vetted financial advisors who serve your area, and you can have a free introductory call with your advisor matches to decide which one you feel is right for you. If you’re ready to find an advisor who can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.

Photo credit: ©, ©, © Trade