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Executor vs. Trustee Explained

I am often asked to explain the difference between the executor and the trustee. To most people, the two words mean the same thing. However, the roles of either are distinctly different. The similarity that leads to the confusion, however, is that an executor and the trustee are both “fiduciaries.” Fiduciary is commonly defined as a person or an entity that owes a duty of loyalty and good faith to another person. A fiduciary occupies a position of trust and is bound both legally and ethically to act in the best interest of another. In this regard, the confusion is understandable because either an executor or a trustee is called upon to perform a task on the behalf of someone for the benefit of another.An executor, sometimes also referred to as a personable representative in some jurisdictions, is a person or entity who is legally empowered to act on behalf of a decedent. Briefly, an executor is charged with making sure that the wishes of a person’s Last Will and Testament are carried out. As a part of this process, an executor will make sure that the legal formalities are observed and that the assets of the decedent are prudently cared for until they are transferred to the intended recipient when the probate administration concludes, typically about 1-2 years.

Similarly, a trustee is charged with making sure that the provisions expressed in a trust instrument are faithfully fulfilled. Unlike the role of an executor, the responsibility of a trustee may last for years, decades, lifetimes, or even generations. In this regard, a trustee must possess the ability to discharge his responsibilities and to act prudently for a comparatively long time.

We at Pinnacle Trust Company are regularly called upon to serve in either or both capacities. Unlike even the most capable and well-intentioned individual, Pinnacle Trust possess a team of skilled professionals who are available to contribute their expertise at any given time. When our clients call on us to serve, they have the confidence that Pinnacle will faithfully and capably perform the duties entrusted to it. In addition to having a seasoned team of service providers, Pinnacle is also able to provide its clients with a peace of mind knowing that Pinnacle maintains a system of controls and oversight through the use of internal compliance, internal and external auditors, and regulation by the Mississippi State Banking Commission.

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Patrick Kingsmill serves as Sr. Vice President & Director of Fiduciary Services and Trust Counsel at Pinnacle Trust. You can reach him by email at pkingsmill@pinntrust.com or by calling the office at 601-957-0323.