When a person passes away, the deceased’s assets and liabilities (called the deceased’s “estate”) must be wound up and resolved.
The person who resolves the estate may be appointed in the deceased’s will as the “executor” (some archaic language calls a female executor an “executrix”). If there is no will, the person who resolves the estate must be appointed by a court, and is called an “administrator” (or “administratrix”).
If there is a will, a court will decide if it is the last will and it names an executor who is ready to act. Then the court issues a “Certificate of Appointment of Estate Trustee” (commonly called “letters probate”).
The person responsible for winding up the estate does so on behalf of the beneficiaries of the estate, and owes the beneficiaries a fiduciary duty. Any conflict of interest whatsoever between the interests of the administrator and the beneficiary must be resolved in favour of the beneficiary.
The role of the estate executor or administrator includes many responsibilities that may be undertaken by a lawyer. For more information about these roles and responsibilities, see our Executor Guide and review the Estate Administration Checklist below.