What's the Difference Between an Executor and a Trustee?

While there some similarities between a trustee and an executor, the chief of which is that they both handle matters of an estate after a person dies, there are significant differences. If you are planning for the future of your estate or you’re being asked to handle an estate after a loved one’s passing, it’s important to understand the differences and the responsibilities you’re asking someone to perform or that you've been asked to perform.

The principal difference between a trustee and an executor arises from the document in which each is named and from which they take their direction. An executor is named in and takes his directions from the decedent’s last will and testament.  A trustee is named in and takes his direction from the trust document for the trust. We should note that during the trust creator’s lifetime, the trust creator (called either grantor, settlor, trustor, or Trustmaker) is usually the trustee of the trust and, therefore, the proper title for someone who takes over trustee responsibilities after the trust creator’s death is “successor trustee.”

More Differences Between Executors and Trustees in Connecticut

The differences between executors and trustees do not end with how they are appointed and directed. While both are usually responsible for disbursing assets to beneficiaries and paying taxes, there are great differences in other tasks they must perform, who they report to, the privacy of their actions, and when their job begins and ends.

Reporting Responsibilities

EXECUTOR — Because probate of an estate is a matter of law, an executor must be appointed by and report to the probate court for the town in which the decedent lived at the time of his or her death. An executor keeps careful records of all estate transactions, which are submitted to the court, and generally will be required to have the court’s permission to sell real property of the estate and for some other transactions.

TRUSTEE — Administration of a trust is handled privately, and a trustee manages the assets of a trust as outlined in the trust document by the trust creator.  A trustee is not supervised by a court or judge, though the trusts terms could name someone to hold the successor trustee accountable or name co-trustees who must agree on actions involving the trust.

Privacy and Public Availability

EXECUTOR — All court proceedings, including probate of an estate, are public record. Anyone who cares to, including strangers as well as creditors and beneficiaries who may think they’re being treated unfairly, can review records of estate probate proceedings, including a list of all of the estate's assets and to whom those assets were being left.

TRUSTEE — Administration of a trust is not a matter of public record and a trustee’s actions are not open to scrutiny by the public or beneficiaries. If someone wants to challenge a trustee’s handling of trust assets, they must file a lawsuit and show that they have cause to believe the trustee is mishandling assets.  In addition, in virtually all cases, the only parties that may make a claim against the trustee are those named as beneficiaries in the trust.

When the Job Begins

EXECUTOR — An executor’s job begins when a probate case for the estate is opened in probate court. In Connecticut, this must occur within 30 days of the date on which the executor or holder of the will is notified of the testator’s death.

TRUSTEE — A trustee is assigned to the trust the moment it is created. As noted above, this is usually the trust creator during his or her lifetime. A successor trustee takes over when the original trustee dies or as dictated by terms of the trust.

When the Job Ends

EXECUTOR — Once all assets are distributed, taxes and creditors are paid, and the probate court closes the case, an executor’s job is essentially over. However, the executor of an estate is considered the executor for life. If the case should be re-opened for some reason in the future, such as to deal with property recently discovered to be part of the estate, the executor will be called to duty again.

TRUSTEE — A successor trustee’s responsibilities usually end whenever the trust’s terms say they end. This could be once assets are disbursed and the trust is dissolved. It could be after a period of time specified by the trust terms, at which time another successor trustee takes over. If a successor trustee dies, a new successor trustee is appointed. A successor trustee can also resign from his responsibilities, in which case a new successor trustee is appointed. Since some trusts are designed to endure for many years or even several generations, a successor trustee can remain in place for a long time or be one of several successor trustees during the lifetime of the trust.

Tasks to Be Performed

EXECUTOR — Primary tasks of an executor include identifying, protecting and distributing assets to beneficiaries, paying taxes and claims on the estate, keeping records of estate transactions, and reporting to probate court. In some cases, an executor may also be required to invest funds, manage properties and conduct similar activities during the probate process to preserve the value and income of estate assets. But these additional responsibilities end once the related asset is distributed to beneficiaries or sold.

TRUSTEE — Except for reporting to probate court, a successor trustee often has many of the same responsibilities as an executor. However, often the details of these matters are more complex and, in some cases, could last for many years. For example, a trust left for a minor child until they become an adult could require a successor trustee to manage investment of trust funds, disburse funds periodically to pay for the child’s expenses and engage in other periodic activities for several years.

Experienced Attorneys Make Probate of an Estate or Administration of a Trust Go Smoothly and Minimize the Potential for Errors

Whether you’re concerned about the ability of your executor or successor trustee to manage your estate properly, or you need help as the appointed executor or successor trustee, the experienced probate and estate planning attorneys at Weatherby & Associates, PC can help. We are available to assist executors and successor trustees in navigating their responsibilities and ensuring that their loved one’s plans and desires for their estate are carried out.

Call our Hartford probate attorneys toll free today: 888-822-8778.

Categories: Blog, Probate


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