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When people hear trustee and executor, they may think they are both the same person and entity. In fact, they are not. There may be occasions where both roles overlap, making them both look like they are one and exact same entity. However, there are a few differences between the two. 

Definition of Trustee and Executor 

Definition of Trustee and Executor
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Let’s start with the basics first. Here are the definitions and meanings of a trustee and an executor. 

Trustee: An appointed person who holds and administers properties and assets for the benefit of a person, family, or business. Trustees don’t just overlook administering properties and assets upon death. They can do the same thing with regards to bankruptcy, a charity, or a trust fund. Sometimes they “overlook” some kinds of retirement plans and funds too. 

Executor: An executor is similar to what a trustee does, they basically ensure that all properties and assets go to the respective people named in the will (if there is one written by the time the owners have passed away). However, the main differences is that they largely overlook just the properties and that they are not explicitly appointed by the owners beforehand. They can be appointed by the court. There will be times when they have to take on the role of a trustee and distribute other assets accordingly. This is why a lot of people think that executors are exactly like trustees but with very small and unnoticeable differences. 

Distinctive Difference Between Trustee and Executor 

Distinctive Difference Between Trustee and Executor
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Having laid the groundworks, we will have a look into what are the precise differences between a trustee and executor.

Entity/Area Executor Trustee
Appointment An executor is someone who is also appointed to overlook the distribution of properties and assets. As mentioned previously, they are very similar to what a trustee does. 

However, in terms of appointment, nobody exactly chooses who the executor will be. The executor will be chosen by the law courts to help with the distribution of properties and assets, including overseeing debts to be paid off. 

In this case, the family members and anyone who is directly linked to the deceased will not have a say on which executor will be elected. 

A trustee is appointed by the property and asset owner to overlook who gets what. Usually when a trustee is appointed, everyone and anyone who is named in the will (or not) will have to ubiquitously agree to the same selected person. If everyone unanimously agree to the same trustee, then they will sign a document to “green light” the person for approval. 

If 1 person says no, then everything will go into stalemate until everyone agrees on the same person for trustee.

Distribution of properties and assets An executor is less likely (if not never) benefit directly from the properties and assets. As he/she oversees and overlooks the assets and properties distributions, they also oversee the debts too. Meaning to say if the deceased still owes a certain amount of money to certain people or parties, the executor will carry out their duty and help pay off the debts from the deceased’s accounts. They will legitimately carry out and execute the distributions accordingly. We can say that the trustee is “less powerful” than the executor mainly because they cannot execute and pay off any debts for the deceased using the deceased’s money. However, there is half a chance that the trustee can be listed as a beneficiary too in the deceased’s will (contestable). 

They only overlook the distribution of the assets and properties. If there are any debts to be paid off, then the trustee will have to work together with an executor to ensure the debts are paid off entirely. Then only will the remaining properties and assets be distributed to whoever are named in the will.

Lifetime Power An executor has limited power when it comes to overseeing the distribution of assets and properties. Though they are only appointed upon your death to overlook the distribution, they only have power during that point of time

As mentioned before, they are to overlook to see if the debts are paid off fully and have the properties and assets are distributed accordingly. However, as soon as all that has been resolved, the executor’s job is pretty much done by then. 

The executor will have 0 effects in influencing the deceased’s decisions before they passed away. They will also have 0 influences in what to do with the properties and assets once it has been distributed.

The trustee has more influence over the trustee’s next-of-kin or anyone directly linked to the deceased’s will. 

They generally have a say in what the deceased has to do with their assets and properties before the deceased passes away. When the deceased passes away, the trustee will still have influence over whoever is linked to the deceased.



Unnamed Assets and Properties Outside Of The Deceased’s Will This can get a bit messy for the deceased if they have joint accounts and properties. 

Usually there will be properties and assets that the deceased have that were not listed in the will. Then the executor will have to investigate and oversee those unlisted properties and assets outside of the will too.   

For example, the deceased has a joint bank account with a spouse who is still living. If that account was not named in the will, the executor will have to follow through with that account’s money too. Which is why things like this can get very messy and complicated.

The trustee’s job is a bit easier and less complicated than the executor’s in this case. The trustee only has to oversee the distribution of whatever assets and properties that are listed in the will. If the deceased has a joint account with a spouse, then the trustee will have very little to no power over that said joint account. They will only oversee the distribution of assets and properties that are listed in the will only.



The bottom line is that there are some distinctive differences between an executor and a trustee. Some people get confused between trustees and executors and may think they are the same. We totally understand that but they are not. They may have to follow through with your properties and assets listed in your will as soon as you have passed away, but either party has power over certain areas the other one doesn’t. We hope that by now you are able to differentiate between a trustee and an executor after reading this short article.