What Is the Difference Between an Executor and a Trustee?

After death, many rely on a will or trust to administer our estate according to our wishes. If you have agreed to act as an executor or trustee or just learned you were chosen for this role, you may have many questions about what these terms mean and the responsibilities that come with them.

It is even more confusing if you are both executor and trustee, which is not uncommon in Pennsylvania estate plans and perfectly legal. You may also be a beneficiary, making it essential to speak with a skilled estate attorney about your duties performing these roles.

Your Role as the Executor of a Pennsylvania Estate

As the executor of an estate, you will be responsible for handling the decedent’s estate, the person who has passed. Any property and assets they own are part of their estate, and if you agree to take on this role, you usually become part of a Pennsylvania probate proceeding.

This process aims to ensure assets get distributed according to the wishes of the decedent and handle some of the financial matters. Ultimately, you must act in the best interest of the estate and its beneficiaries.

To better understand the responsibilities of an estate executor, below are the duties you will perform in this role:

  • Submitting the will to the Register of Wills to begin probate proceedings
  • Overseeing the administration of the estate
  • Managing the decedent’s assets
  • Notifying creditors and heirs of the estate
  • Paying outstanding creditors and taxes of the estate
  • Conducting an inventory of the entire estate and submitting a valuation to the court
  • Accounting for all actions taken on the estate

It is vital to remember that just because someone named you as an executor, and even if you previously agreed to the role, you can still decline the position and let the court appoint someone else. The Register of Wills or the Court will appoint a new individual for the role, often another family member, though any designation can be contested.

The Role of an Estate Trustee in Pennsylvania

Being the trustee of an estate is significantly different than that of an executor in Pennsylvania. While executors will manage an estate so that distribution of any property and assets are taken care of, a trustee administers a trust.

Simply defined, a trust involves a grantor (the person creating it) giving legal ownership of specific properties and assets to a trustee on behalf of the designated beneficiaries who will receive the assets at some point. Typically, there are conditions to be met before this can occur, and a trustee will sign a binding legal arrangement known as a trust agreement that outlines those requirements. For example, let’s say a grandfather places a vintage car in such a trust until his grandson reaches 18 years old and has a license. A trustee would ensure the grandson receives the vehicle once these conditions get met.

In Pennsylvania, families use two primary types of trusts in their estate plans: revocable and irrevocable. Regardless, the purpose is the same: to preserve the entrusted property and assets on behalf of the heirs. Whether the decedent has determined that their beneficiaries should receive a distribution over time or at a certain age, the trustee must ensure this property is kept safe and appropriately distributed.

Additionally, as a trustee, you will manage these assets in a way that benefits the designated heirs. You are legally required to act in this manner at all times, including:

  • Know what assets are part of the trust
  • Protecting entrusted assets
  • Account for all assets, liabilities, and creditors
  • File required taxes
  • Distribute assets according to the trust agreement

Trust Our Pennsylvania Estate Attorneys

Whether you know about your appointment as a trustee or executor or found out by surprise, there are many legal resources available to help you navigate this complex responsibility. To gain a better understanding of your role, the difference between wills and trusts, and how the Pennsylvania probate process affects your duties and expectations, speak with the experienced estate planning attorneys of Antanavage Farbiarz, PLLC, right away.

With our years of experience practicing estate and probate law in Pennsylvania, you can rely on us to provide a clear explanation of your rights and responsibilities as an executor or trustee. Set up a consultation and learn how our services can help you manage this complex process and avoid costly mistakes and litigation issues.