Roles in an Estate: Executors, Trustees and Guardians

roles in an estate executors trustees and guardians
If you’ve recently lost a loved one, you may wonder about the probate process and your role in it, especially if you’re an heir. The probate process involves several people filling multiple roles so your loved one’s will can be legally recognized and the heirs can receive their inheritance.

As an heir or beneficiary, you may want to learn more about roles like the executor of the will, trustee and guardian. Understanding these roles in the probate process for an estate gives you a better picture of what to expect going forward.

Executor of a Will

An executor of a will is one of the primary roles in the probate process. This person is responsible for carrying out the deceased’s wishes as outlined in their will.

What Is an Executor of a Will?

An executor of a will is a person or institution who is appointed to manage the deceased’s estate. If the deceased individual named an executor in their will, the probate court must approve them. The probate court might have to appoint an executor of a will if the deceased left no wishes. The decision is ultimately up to the court, but the executor of the will is typically a family member who will receive an inheritance.

The executor of a will must follow through with the deceased’s wishes about their personal and real property. These responsibilities make an executor of a will an essential part of the probate process.

What Does an Executor of a Will Do?

An executor of a will has a legal duty to act in the best interest of the deceased individual and the heirs of their estate. Fulfilling this role might require the executor to perform several tasks, including:

  • Filing probate court paperwork
  • Distributing the estate’s assets to the heirs and beneficiaries
  • Satisfying creditors by paying the estate’s debts
  • Paying federal, state and estate taxes
  • Defending the will against lawsuits and questions of its validity

An executor of a will does not have the power to change the deceased’s will or determine who receives an inheritance. The executor’s full responsibility is to ensure the beneficiaries receive the inheritance left to them by the deceased. It’s important to remember that the probate court has the final say about the deceased’s assets.


Another role in the probate process is the trustee. If a deceased person sets up a trust in their will, the trustee is responsible for overseeing it. Here’s an overview of a trustee’s role and duties:

What Is a Trustee?

A trustee is a person or institution that manages the trust property to benefit the trust’s beneficiaries. A trust holds assets for the beneficiary until the beneficiary receives the assets. Until then, the trustee oversees and manages the assets for the trust’s beneficiaries. The trustee must act according to the trust deed, which outlines how the assets should be managed. This responsibility is called the trustee’s fiduciary duty.

A person can set up a trust with their assets in multiple ways to control when the beneficiaries can take distributions, so the trustee’s role may last for years or a short time. Trusts typically avoid probate, so the beneficiaries of a trust may receive their inheritance faster than they would through a will.

What Does a Trustee Do?

When comparing the executor of a will vs. the trustee, the trustee has several unique duties specific to the trust assets under their care. A trustee often manages assets like stocks, bonds, real estate, mutual funds and other investments, making decisions about how to invest these assets. Considering the duties of trustees vs. executors, trustees are only responsible for managing the assets in a trust, whereas the executor manages the rest of the estate.


Your loved one may have a guardian for their estate, depending on their health situation. If the court appoints a guardian, here’s what you can expect:

what is a guardian

What Is a Guardian?

A guardian of an estate is an individual appointed by the court to manage an estate for a person who has a disability or has otherwise become incapable of making financial decisions. People in this role are sometimes called conservators. This type of guardianship is most common for older adults who develop illnesses or experience cognitive decline later in life.

Another type of guardian is an individual or institution who cares for a minor or an adult with disabilities. The probate court appoints this guardian to protect the interests of a child or adult with disabilities who lacks the capacity or understanding to decide their own welfare.

What Does a Guardian Do?

The American Bar Association identifies several duties of a guardian of an estate, including:

  • Estate planning
  • Selling real estate
  • Entering contracts
  • Making financial decisions
  • Filing lawsuits
  • Applying for government benefits

A guardian of a person may perform functions like:

  • Making medical decisions for the child or adult with disabilities
  • Overseeing the living arrangements of the person
  • Ensuring the person receives professional services

There is one significant difference when comparing the guardian of an estate vs. the executor. The guardian of an estate performs their duties while the person is incapacitated. In contrast, the executor of a will performs their responsibilities after the person has died.

Power of Attorney

Power of attorney is the legal right for a person to act on behalf of someone else.

What Is the Power of Attorney?

A person creates a power of attorney document to allow someone else to make financial or health decisions for them if they cannot do so. Both parties must sign the power of attorney document and consent to the terms of the agreement. A power of attorney agreement ends when the principal dies. However, a person may set up a durable power of attorney, which continues after their health or cognitive abilities deteriorate.

What Does the Power of Attorney Do?

A financial power of attorney handles financial responsibilities for the client while they are still alive, such as:

  • Signing checks
  • Depositing Social Security checks
  • Filing tax returns
  • Managing investment accounts

The primary difference between the power of attorney and the executor of a will is that the power of attorney’s responsibilities end with the client’s death. In contrast, the executor’s responsibilities begin with the person’s death. A power of attorney can also make or change beneficiary selections, which the executor cannot do.

get an inheritance with inheritance funding

Get an Inheritance Advance With Inheritance Funding

Understanding the various roles in the probate process can make this difficult time less stressful for yourself and your family members. Another way to ease the probate process is with an inheritance cash advance. The probate process can last up to two years, making it difficult for heirs to pay for a funeral, handle bills and more. At Inheritance Funding, we’re the largest provider of inheritance cash advances to get heirs a portion of their money faster.

Since 1992, Inheritance Funding has provided heirs with an immediate advance on inheritance money to use however they wish. We founded the inheritance advance industry and continue to offer large advances and guarantee low prices. We don’t require a credit check, so there’s no effect on your credit, and unlike an inheritance loan, we don’t charge an interest rate and have a fixed maximum fee. We are also rated A+ by the Better Business Bureau.

Fill out our confidential form to start the process and request a free consultation.