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What Is the Difference Between an Executor, Administrator, and Personal Representative?

After the death of a loved one, you will always hear words like executors, personal representatives, and administrators. If you are in the position of managing the deceased person’s assets, you may be wondering what each of these three terms means. What are the duties of a personal representative vs executor? Or what is the difference between an executor and an administrator?

Probate law has many unusual terms that are unique to this area of legislation. All the titles mentioned above essentially refer to a person appointed by the court to administer the deceased’s estate.

In this article, we’ll clarify what personal representative vs. executor vs administrator means, what responsibilities come with each role, and when you should use each term.

What Is a Personal Representative?


personal representative is a person appointed to represent and manage the possessions of a late person.

The personal representative can be called executor or administrator, depending on the absence of the decedent’s will and how they were appointed to administer the inheritance.

As a result, it is becoming more common to refer to the person responsible for settling the deceased’s assets as the estate’s personal representative.

Can a personal representative be a beneficiary?

In Georgia, yes, the personal representatives can also be beneficiaries. However, the individual appointed to manage the estate’s property cannot put their own affairs and interests before those of anyone else involved in the estate.

The personal representative’s job includes legally and correctly enforcing the will throughout the probate estate process.

Types of personal representatives (trustees, conservators, and legal guardians)

In Georgia, the term personal representative is an umbrella term only for either executor or administrator of an estate. It would not mean successor trustee, conservator, or legal guardian.

What Is an Executor?

When someone who has passed away leaves a will, the document should identify one individual to act on behalf of the estate. This person is called an executor.

The decedent can name multiple executors to serve, named co-executors.

It is common for the deceased to appoint a primary executor in the will. If that person refuses or cannot fulfil his responsibilities as estate personal representative, others may be appointed to handle the fair and lawful distribution of the inheritance. They are considered successor executors and will only have authority if the primary executor declines the appointment.

The decedent typically designates someone such as their surviving spouse, a family member, a lawyer, or anyone they consider qualified to fulfil their final wishes.

An executor’s job also includes legally and correctly enforcing the will throughout the probate process.

The Administrator of Estate Definition

The estate administrator is a person who has been appointed by the probate court to manage the inheritance when the person who passed away didn’t leave a will.

What Power Does a Personal Representative Have? What Is His Role?

Two situations can occur:

Scenario 1: If the decedent left a will

Generally speaking, apart from the appointment of the estate executor, his powers are also established in the will. You must check if the document gives the executor additional authority beyond the default powers under Georgia law.

It is common for a will to list specific actions you’re allowed to take or reference a code section from Georgia law that contains a long list of additional powers for an executor.

If the will does not specify anything, heirs must unanimously consent to give you expanded powers for the court to approve.

Scenario 2: When there is no will

You will also need formal consent from all living family members and other descendants to obtain expanded powers.

In both cases, the probate judge may honor or deny the request, but it is more favorable when all heirs are on board.

What Power Does an Executor Have? What is His Role?

Generally, an executor oversees the administration of the late person’s estate promptly until it is ready to be distributed to the beneficiaries.

This includes identifying and collecting all the deceased assets, including bank accounts, real estate, and other personal properties, paying debts, financial taxes, and other expenses.

Certain powers are granted to executors by default, as outlined in the will. For other tasks, the executor may need to obtain expanded powers.

What Does an Administrator of an Estate Do? What is His Role?

When someone passes away without having trust documents but has assets that need to be settled, an individual is formally appointed to administer the estate property, represent the heirs’ best interests, and ensure that everything is handled correctly.

According to the probate estate law, they will be responsible for the administration of inheritance and pay all the estate’s debts before distributing the remaining property to the beneficiaries.

There is a difference between a temporary administrator vs. a permanent administrator:

Temporary Administrators 

They have minimal abilities but are often quickly assigned because of emergencies (e.g., imminent property foreclosure). There may be a time limit on how long the temporary administrator can serve before they have to file for permanent letters.

They have minimal authority and can only take action to protect and preserve estate assets and nothing else. The temporary administrator may be required to serve with a bond and submit inventory and annual income tax returns.

Permanent Administrators

When a permanent administrator is officially appointed, they will have certain powers and greater flexibility in the estate’s day-to-day management.

Duties of an administrator

  • Collecting all the assets held by the decedent
  • Keeping an inventory of the late person’s possessions
  • Verifying and settling any tax obligations with federal and state authorities
  • Paying the deceased person’s bills, debts, and expenses of estate administration (e.g., cost of hiring a lawyer, if any)
  • Securing an IRS tax identification number
  • Establishing an estate bank account to deposit all estate funds
  • Distributing the remaining assets to legal heirs after paying all the debts and expenses, according to the state law
  • Upholding the oath that they have taken after being appointed
  • Petitioning the probate court to close the estate after distributing all the decedent’s belongings.

Personal Representative vs Executor. Is a Personal Representative the Same As an Executor?

Yes, the term personal representative encompasses both executors and administrators and can be used to appropriately refer to someone in either position.

What Is the Difference Between an Administrator and an Executor?


Both serve the same purpose. The primary difference is the way they were appointed: if they were named by the deceased through a will, then they are called executors.

The personal representative appointed through the probate process when the deceased doesn’t have a will is called an administrator.

Personal Representative vs Executor Cost

The cost of being an executor can vary depending on the county, the estate’s size, and the associated legal fees according to state law.

Tips for Being an Administrator or an Executor

Keeping communication lines open with heirs and beneficiaries helps manage expectations and minimize conflicts.

  • Informal Updates: Provide timely updates about important milestones, such as the status of asset distribution, creditor settlements, and any legal proceedings.
  • Scheduled Meetings: Plan periodic meetings or calls with beneficiaries to discuss the estate plan and its progress, answer questions, and address concerns.
  • Open Dialogue: Encourage beneficiaries to share their concerns with you. Answer the questions promptly and provide clear explanations to avoid suspicion.
  • Share Important Documents: Share copies of necessary documents, such as the will, inventory of the late person’s possessions, and any court filings that may affect beneficiaries’ interests during the probate process.

In Georgia, the executor should follow the terms of the will and state laws when they distribute assets.

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  • Reviewing the will: The executor first examines the testament to understand how the deceased wanted to distribute their belongings. The will may specify which beneficiaries receive particular assets or properties.
  • Valuing assets: The executor should adequately assess the value of the assets to distribute them accurately. Assets such as real estate, personal property, and investments must be appraised if necessary.
  • In-Kind distribution: Some assets can be distributed “in-kind,” which means beneficiaries receive them as described in the will. For example, an heir may receive a piece of jewelry that held sentimental value to the deceased.
  • Liquidating assets: If the estate money is insufficient to cover debts, the executor may need to sell certain effects, such as property or investments, to raise funds.
  • Distributing inheritance: The executor provides beneficiaries with the assets they are entitled to according to the will. They may transfer ownership of properties, distribute funds from bank accounts, or transfer investment assets.

As an executor, you can be held personally liable in certain situations. You can best protect yourself if you understand these areas of liability:

  • Mismanagement of Assets: If an executor mishandles or misappropriates estate assets, beneficiaries or creditors can hold them accountable for financial losses.
  • Failure to Pay Debts: Executors must settle valid debts of the estate. Failure to pay creditors in the correct order can lead to personal liability for outstanding debts.
  • Breach of Fiduciary Duty: Executors have a fiduciary duty to act in the best interests of beneficiaries. They can breach this duty by acting in self-interest or neglecting their responsibilities.
  • Neglecting Tax Obligations: Filing accurate tax returns for the estate is one of the duties of an executor. Neglecting tax obligations can make an executor personally liable for any penalties or taxes owed.

Is a personal representative the same as an executor in Georgia?

Yes, the term personal representatives encompasses both executors and administrators.

The term “executor” is more specific than personal representatives, meaning the late person had a last will and testament with named executors.

What Is The Difference Between an Administrator and a Personal Representative?

Both personal representatives and administrators mean the same thing, the terms being interchangeable.

However, the term “administrator” is more specific, indicating that the decedent died intestate.

What Is the Personal Representative’s Role?

The primary role of the personal representative is to manage and settle the deceased’s estate. If there is a will, the personal representative must follow the deceased person’s final wishes as stated in the bequest.

Here is a breakdown of the various responsibilities that come with the role:

Acting in the best interest of the beneficiaries

Regardless of their personal opinion, they must be fair and distribute assets based on what heirs or beneficiaries legally own.

Collecting and safeguarding the estate’s assets

They will identify and protect all the estate assets like bank accounts, investment accounts, personal property, vehicles, or other possessions like jewelry. And will also be responsible for opening an estate bank account to hold all the collected funds.

We highly recommend keeping a detailed inventory of the estate to address any potential disputes in the future.

Notifying creditors and handling debts

Once appointed, they must identify all creditors and any outstanding payments owed by the deceased. Next, they will run a creditor or debtor ad through the local newspaper to notify them that they may now come forward to file their claim.

Once the creditors submit their claims, the personal representative will pay them according to a creditor priority established by the Georgia probate law. As a rule, they must use estate assets to settle debts before distributing what remains to heirs and beneficiaries.

Distribution according to Georgia law and the will

The representative must follow Georgia law and honor the last will’s provisions while distributing assets.

If the estate has run out of liquid assets and he still needs to pay debts and taxes, he may need to sell some of the deceased’s property to cover these financial obligations.

Reporting when required

If the court asks the representative to obtain a bond, create inventories, or submit annual returns, he must promptly follow these requirements.

Seeking discharge after estate affairs are resolved

After distributing the remaining assets to heirs and beneficiaries, the representative may now file for discharge from his role as executor.

Once the court accepts his discharge paperwork, he may receive a liability shield to protect himself from any beneficiary, heir, or creditor attempting to file against you in the future.

Personal Representative vs Executor: What Should You Know  

Being a personal representative is not always straightforward, and you might run into questions or situations that need legal insight.

If you need more precise information or the expertise of a probate attorney, contact our office at (770) 796-4582 to set up a consultation.

Having the proper support can make all the difference as you face the responsibilities and challenges of distributing a deceased person’s estate and need to understand what a personal representative vs. executor vs administrator is.


Disclaimer: The information above is provided for general information only and should not be considered legal advice. Our probate attorneys provide legal advice to our clients after talking about the specific circumstances of the client’s situation. Our law firm cannot give you legal advice unless we understand your situation by talking with you. Please contact our law office to receive specific information about your situation.

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About the author

Erik J. Broel
Founder & ceo

Erik founded the firm in 2009. He sees it as his personal mission to demystify the process of handling an estate or trust, and to help people by making the complex estate process simple and accessible. He believes there is always a better way to do things, and loves finding new and innovative ways to deliver better, more effective service that solves the client’s key problem or issue, and improves the client’s life.

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