What is an Executor and Trustee? – Updated for 2023

In Australia, an executor and a trustee play distinct roles in the context of managing someone’s estate, typically after their death. These roles are associated with the administration of a deceased person’s assets and carrying out their wishes as outlined in their will or relevant legal documents. Let’s explore each role:

Executor: An executor is an individual or sometimes a professional organization appointed by the deceased person in their will to manage and distribute their estate according to their wishes. The executor’s primary responsibilities include:

  • Probate Application: The executor initiates the probate process, which is a legal procedure that validates the deceased person’s will and grants the executor the authority to manage the estate.
  • Gathering Assets: The executor locates and collects all the assets owned by the deceased person, which can include property, bank accounts, investments, personal belongings, and more.
  • Paying Debts and Taxes: The executor is responsible for identifying and settling any outstanding debts, taxes, or liabilities owed by the deceased person or their estate. This includes filing final tax returns.
  • Distributing Assets: Following the legal requirements and the instructions in the will, the executor distributes the remaining assets to the beneficiaries as specified. This might involve selling assets, transferring property, and dividing assets among heirs.

Trustee: A trustee, on the other hand, manages assets on behalf of beneficiaries according to the terms of a trust. A trust can be established during a person’s lifetime or through their will as a testamentary trust. The trustee’s role involves:

    • Asset Management: The trustee takes legal ownership of the assets placed in the trust and manages them for the benefit of the beneficiaries as outlined in the trust deed. This management could involve investments, property management, and other financial matters.
    • Following Trust Terms: The trustee must follow the instructions and guidelines laid out in the trust document. This could include distributing income generated by the trust’s assets to beneficiaries or making specific distributions based on certain conditions.
    • Fiduciary Duty: Trustees have a fiduciary duty to act in the best interests of the beneficiaries. They must manage the trust assets prudently and ethically, avoiding conflicts of interest and making decisions that benefit the beneficiaries.

It is not unusual to combine the role of executor and trustee. In other words they are the same person(s).

It is usual for the main beneficiary to be the executor of the estate with an alternate being chosen in case the executor predeceases you, or is unwilling or incapable of acting. You can choose up to 3 executors in your Will.