When people pass away, all their assets and liabilities become known as the person's estate. Someone has to be in charge of settling the estate's affairs and transferring assets to the heirs and beneficiaries. Under Texas law, this person is known as the executor or estate administrator.
Generally speaking, an executor is a person who is appointed in the will of the deceased. An estate administrator is someone who is appointed by the court. In some cases, the court decides an administrator is necessary because the person appointed in the will as the executor has died, or is unable to carry out the duties. In other cases, an administrator may be necessary because the deceased did not leave a will.
Once the administrator has been officially qualified by the court, he or she takes possession of the estate. The administrator then pays the estate's debts and distributes the property according to the will. If there is no will, the court determines who inherits the property according to guidelines known as the law of intestate succession, and the administrator is in charge of carrying out the court's instructions.
Often the court oversees the administration of the estate. In some cases, the court allows for independent administration, meaning that, once he or she has been approved and has submitted an inventory of the estate, the administrator does not have to work under close court supervision. This way of settling an estate is often faster and less expensive than going through the court.
An administrator does not have to be a lawyer, but the job comes with a legal responsibility to represent the interests of beneficiaries and creditors. Thus, many non-lawyers who are appointed as executors or administrators seek out help from lawyers who have experience in estate administration and understand the obligations and issues involved.