In North Carolina, the statutory legal process of settling the estate of a deceased person uses a variety of legal terms to identify the person in charge of administering the estate and the authority granted to that individual. The terms “Collector,” “Executor,” “Administrator,” and “Personal Representative” all describe the person in charge of settling an estate but each term has a slightly different meaning.
The North Carolina General Statutes defines “collector” as “any person authorized to take possession, custody, or control of the personal property of the decedent.” Generally, a collector is appointed for a small estate that is being administered through the process of Collection of Property by Affidavit. A collector is not a fiduciary and is only appointed when the value of personal property of the decedent is less than $30,000.
The term “personal representative” encompasses executors, administrators, and administrator CTA. The duties of each type of personal representative are the same, each individual is a fiduciary, and a typical full administration of an estate will have one of these. The duties of each position are to safeguard the estate’s property; inventory the property; submit accounts and inventories to the court as required; pay the debts and expenses of the deceased (including funeral and burial expenses, costs of last illness, and outstanding medical bills); pay any federal or state taxes; and distribute the estate to those named in the Will or, if no Will exists, to the next-of-kin. When in doubt, use “Personal Representative” since it includes the other fiduciary titles.
An executor (or “executrix” for a female) is the person(s) or entity named in the decedent’s will to manage the decedent’s affairs and settle the decedent’s estate pursuant to the terms of the decedent’s Will. Some people choose multiple executors in order to ensure the estate is handled fairly and honestly. Alternative or successor executors might also be named in the Will in the event that the first designated executor cannot, or refuses to, serve. A person named as an executor in a Will can accept or reject the position. If it is rejected, the court must appoint another representative, known as an Administrator CTA to fulfill the duties.
An administrator CTA is a person or entity appointed by the Clerk of Court to carry out the provisions of a Will when the testator has named no executor, or the executors named in the will refuse to serve, are incompetent to act, or have died before performing their duties. “CTA” stand for cum testament annexoi, Latin for “with the will annexed.”
If a person dies intestate, meaning having died without a will, then an Administrator (“administratrix” for a female) is appointed by the Clerk of Court to settle the estate. There is an order of priority to qualify as the Administrator of an intestate estate and an Administrator is issued Letters of Administration after being qualified to serve.
In sum, an executor differs from an administrator in that he or she is named in the decedent’s will to manage the estate. If an executor is unable or refuses to perform his or her duties, a court will appoint an Administrator CTA. If no will has been made, then the courts will appoint an estate administrator. All of these are subcategories of “personal representative.” A collector is in a separate category from the others and only appointed in small estate collected by affidavit. All are required to swear an oath prior to appointment and perform their duties in accordance with North Carolina law and local rules of the Court.
If you have been appointed as the Personal Representative of an estate and have questions about how to proceed, please call (704) 608-3429 to schedule a consultation with an experienced North Carolina estate administration lawyer.