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By: Scott Grossman on January 22nd, 2018

Are You a Trustee or an Executor?


Scott Grossman is certified by the State Bar of California Board of Legal Specialization as a specialist in Estate Planning, Trust, and Probate Law. He represents clients in cases throughout California.

Were you assigned to this role under the terms of your loved one’s trust?  If so, you are a trustee.

When a loved one passes away, friends and family are often tasked with the responsibility for winding up his or her affairs. Fortunately, in some cases, your loved one may have taken the time to set up a solid estate plan that outlines who is in charge of certain responsibilities and provides guidance as to what should happen with the assets of the estate or trust. For most people, this may be their first experience administering a trust or estate. The terms “executor” and “trustee” are often used interchangeably by mistake. In reality, these two terms describe very different roles. It is important to understand if you are a trustee or an executor. The following is an overview to help you clarify whether you are a trustee or an executor.

Five Questions to Ask Yourself to Determine Whether You Are a Trustee or an Executor:

  • Were you assigned to this role under the terms of your loved one’s will? If so, you are an executor. Your appointment does not have legally binding authority until the will is submitted to the probate court and approved by the judge. At that time, the court will grant you the appropriate authority necessary for you to fulfill your responsibilities as executor of the estate.
  • Are you working with the court as part of the administration? If you are working with the court, chances are that you are an executor as opposed to a trustee. Most trusts do not require court involvement or oversight.
  • Are you responsible for clearing up all of the decedent’s debts? If one of your tasks is to deal with creditor claims brought by third parties who were owed money by your deceased loved one, you are most likely an executor. Typically, debts of the estate are handled by the executor as part of the probate administration process. The executor is tasked with the responsibility for making sure that these debts are paid.
  • Finally, did you receive paperwork from the probate court that gives you written authority to carry out the estate’s administration? If so, you are likely an executor. As discussed above, it is usually only the executor that deals with the probate court. The trustee’s authority to act with regard to the administration of the trust comes from the actual trust itself. The trustee will sign a trustee acceptance form; otherwise, the power is effective simply by virtue of the trust instrument.

Depending upon the answers to these questions, you are serving as either a trustee of your loved one’s trust or an executor of your loved one’s estate.

What If You Are Appointed to Both Roles Simultaneously?

In some cases, you may be appointed to both roles simultaneously. The responsibilities for each role can become confusing without experience. Fortunately, we are here to help. We encourage you to check out the client testimonials from many of our previous clients for a better understanding of how we have helped others in the past. Furthermore, feel free to contact us today for a free consultation, we would love to hear from you.

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