What is an Estate Administrator?


When a person dies without a will, the court appoints an estate administrator to fulfill the responsibilities that would otherwise belong to the executor. When a person dies with a will, an executor is named and entrusted with the decedent’s obligations and assets ensuring that they are managed and distributed according to the instructions in the will. Read our article about executor responsibilities.

Appointing an Estate Administrator

After someone dies without a will, a probate proceeding is opened in a court of law. Probate proceedings usually occur between thirty and ninety days after the death, depending on the state laws. The first action of the probate court is to appoint an administrator of the estate, who is named the legal representative for the decedent and their estate. The appointed estate administrator may be a surviving spouse, family member, or attorney. This responsibility often transfers to the surviving spouse, but if there is no spouse, it is passed on to the closest surviving family member, more commonly referred to as the next of kin. Read our article about next of kin.

If someone wants to be appointed estate administrator, it is possible to file according to the state’s intestate succession laws. Basic information about the decedent and a list of living relatives, a preliminary inventory of their estate, and a certified copy of the death certificate are typically required for submission alongside the application. A person seeking an appointment as an estate administrator should check with the county clerk’s office for the necessary information to file in that county. Once these documents are submitted and the filing fee paid, a hearing is scheduled with the probate court if required by the state.

Once appointed, the estate administrator receives a letter of testamentary from the probate court. A letter of testamentary is a legal document that gives the executor authority to execute instructions on distributing assets and resolving post-death logistics on behalf of the decedent. The letter of testamentary is essential when the estate administrator is handling financial responsibilities, such as filing taxes and settling debts.

Most of the time, estate administrators are compensated for their work. It is widely understood that managing an estate throughout the probate process is time-consuming and complicated. If the decedent has not set aside designated funds to pay an estate administrator, the probate court typically decides on a percentage of the estate to serve as compensation.

What Are an Estate Administrator’s Responsibilities?

The responsibilities of an estate administrator are almost identical to those of an executor. Once appointed, the first task of an estate administrator is to collect outstanding payments owed to the decedent and include those funds as a part of the overall inventory of all the decedent’s assets and property; as well as obligations and debt, including federal tax debt. The IRS views the decedent and their estate as separate entities regarding taxes, so the estate administrator must file the required tax returns.

In addition to tax-related responsibilities, an estate administrator notifies any debtors, creditors, and government or financial institutions about the death. Estate administrators must also file claims with any life insurance policies payable to the estate.

While financial matters are settled, the estate administrator also communicates with any surviving family, beneficiaries, and heirs. The estate administrator must ensure that assets and property are distributed as intended by the probate court or state laws.

Hiring an Attorney

While it is not legally required that an estate administrator employ an attorney, it may be a good idea if the estate is substantial. Because an estate administrator is court-appointed, they may not be familiar with estate laws, and the probate process can become quite complicated. Hiring a lawyer for guidance throughout the process may make the experience less stressful. Keep in mind legal fees add up quickly and are not reimbursable.


Understanding the responsibilities of an estate administrator is essential to successfully managing post-death logistics. While the role and responsibilities of an estate administrator are similar if not identical to those of an executor named in a will, the process by which an estate administrator is appointed is unique. Being an estate administrator is no small undertaking, and finding oneself in the position to manage a decedent’s estate can be complicated and time-consuming.

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Kubloss, Inc. (dba EstateGrid) has placed the information on this website as a service to the general public. It is not intended as legal, financial, or health advice or as a substitute for the particularized advice of a qualified professional. It is provided as is without warranty of any kind, either express or implied, including but not limited to, the implied warranties of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, or non‐infringement.