An executor is an individual appointed as the personal representative of the decedent if the decedent died testate (if the decedent dies with a valid will and testament, the decedent is said to have died “testate”). This person handles the administration of the estate and generally has certain rights and duties concerning the estate referred to as “fiduciary duties.” These may include initiating the probate process, obtaining death certificates, filing the necessary paperwork in probate court, identifying members of the decedent’s immediate family, etc.
At common law a trustee is a party to whom the settlor (the party who creates the trust) transfers the trust property; the trustee holds legal title to the trust property and manages the property for the duration of the trust. A trustee has no inherent powers but rather possesses only those powers either expressly granted in the terms of the trust or those necessarily implied in light of the trust purposes (the settlor’s intent, whatever that intent might be). A trustee, like an executor, has certain rights and duties that are owed both to the estate as well as to the beneficiaries of the trust who have a future interest in the assets under the trustee’s management. In this regard, everything the trustee does must be done in the best interests of the beneficiaries.