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

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


There are several different terms which can identify the representative of a deceased person’s estate in Pennsylvania. These terms can be confusing because they are often used interchangeably though they carry different meanings.


Executor/ Executrix


When a person dies with a Will, the representative is known as the Executor or Executrix. The Will of the deceased usually nominates a person to serve. It is the job of the Executor to petition the Register of Wills to open the estate and carry out the terms of the Will.


Executors can gain appointment at the Register of Wills by presenting the original Will and the death certificate along with a petition for probate. If the petition is granted, the Register of Wills will issue Letters Testamentary.


Administrator/ Administratrix



The Administrator or Administratrix is the person appointed by the Register of Wills when the deceased died without a Will. The process of appointment of an Administrator is different than an Executor. Since there is no Will to nominate a representative, all of the heirs to the deceased’s estate have an interest in a potential appointment.


The heirs can nominate a person by signing renunciations deferring to a single Administrator. More than one Administrator can also be appointed as Co-Administrators. The representative can also be a non-heir such as an accountant, attorney or an institution. If the heirs do not cooperate, a petition can be filed requesting appointment over the objections of one or more heirs. Similarly to Letters Testamentary, the Register of Wills will issue Letters of Administration to the Administrator.


Personal Representative


Executors and Administrators can also be referred to as the Personal Representative, a generic term. In Pennsylvania it is common to refer generically to the Personal Representative, especially to avoid cumbersome use of gender-specific terms.


In either case, the representative of the estate has a fiduciary duty to the estate beneficiaries to manage and distribute estate assets according to the law.


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