Executor & Trustee responsibilities

Executors and trustees are both typically responsible for disbursing assets to beneficiaries and paying taxes for the decedent, and both roles must remain faithful to the decedent’s instructions. Here, we explore the differences between the two. For a more in-depth analysis of these two roles, download our eBook.


You have been named as executor (in some states referred to as a personal representative). Now it’s time to step into the job. Here are some examples of your responsibilities:

  1. Assumes role based on state-specific probate requirements, normally court-appointed.
  2. Reviews provisions of the will, locates heirs, and discusses preliminary probate steps with attorney upon decedent’s death.
  3. Safeguards and marshals the probate assets in the estate.
  4. Manages the probate process.
  5. For court inventory or tax purposes, obtains non-probate asset information, such as assets in trust that are joint or payable on death, and assets with beneficiary designations, like life insurance.


A trustee is the person who administers a trust. A trustee’s duties are similar to those of an executor, but assets in a trust do not have to go through probate.

  1. Assumes role when appointment is accepted in writing, which may be when the original trustee passes away or resigns.
  2. Identifies, safeguards, and marshals assets titled in the trust’s name or payable to the trust (insurance, retirement benefits, estate assets).
  3. Administers the trust and is responsible to beneficiaries of the trust, normally without court oversight.
  4. Monitors assets for quality and preservation, recognizing near-term distribution requirements.
    For ongoing trusts, monitors and manages for the benefit of the beneficiaries’ current and future needs.
  5. May be required, per document terms, to keep the trust operational for the lifetime of the surviving spouse or one or more beneficiaries.

Trust services available through banking and trust affiliates in addition to non-affiliated companies of Wells Fargo Advisors. Any estate plan should be reviewed by an attorney who specializes in estate planning and is licensed to practice law in your state.