Probate Personal Representative vs. Executor vs. Administrator

What’s the difference between an executor, an administrator, and a personal representative in the probate court?

Personal representative is the general term used in California Probate Courts to identify the individual tasked to initiate and shepherd the decedent’s estate administration through the probate process. “Personal representative” encompasses all of the following: executor, administrator, administrator with will annexed, special administrator, public administrator, and some other, less defined terms. Whether or not the personal representative is an executor, administrator, etc., is usually defined by the will, or lack of a will:

Executor/Executrix (the antiquated feminine form) – This is the person specifically identified in the decedent’s will to administer the decedent’s estate, and who’s role was officially confirmed by the relevant probate court. The person petitioning the court to be named executor will therefore check, “Probate of Will and for Letters Testamentary” on the Probate Petition.

Administrator with Will Annexed – This means the decedent had a will, but either did not nominate an executor, or the person or people nominated were unable or unwilling to serve. Whoever is appointed as personal administrative therefore serves in this capacity. The person petitioning the court to be named executor will therefore request “Probate of Will and for Letters of Administration with Will Annexed” on the Probate Petition.

Administrator – The personal representative is appointed merely as “Administrator” when the decedent did not have a will.

Special Administrator – This is appointed where someone is needed to perform some act or acts on behalf of the estate before there has been an opportunity for full letters to be issued, or while there is a contest pending that affects the appointment of a representative. The special administrator therefore has limited authority.

Public Administrator – This is appointed usually when there is no one else able or willing to serve as personal representative, or when the will requests it.

Regardless of the capacity the personal representative serves in, he or she is required to accept the duties and liabilities of a personal representative, set forth in court form DE-147, here.