askST: What is the difference between an administrator and a trustee in a will?

SINGAPORE - Reader Albert Tan wrote to askST with questions about wills: "Firstly, what is the difference between an administrator and a trustee stated in a person's will?

"Does a trustee need to apply for a court's permit or approval to execute the content of the deceased's will?

"Finally, is there a time limit for a will to be executed when a person dies?"

Senior law correspondent K.C. Vijayan answered.

First to answer the question about the difference between an administrator and a trustee. The administrator comes in where a deceased person has not left a will to deal with his assets. A person has to apply to court to be the administrator of the estate of a deceased person who has not left a will.

Someone who has left a will would have named an executor in the document.

Both the administrator and the executor are trustees of the deceased's assets. They will act to distribute the assets to beneficiaries and pay out expenses incurred in administration in accordance with the Probate & Administration Act and also the Trustees Act where applicable.

An executor's job is to ensure the estate left by a deceased person is properly accounted for, and distributed, in accordance with the explicit instructions of the deceased.

Where there is no will, the Intestate Succession Act provides for distribution of the deceased's assets.

A trustee's job is also to ensure that proceeds left to a particular person - who may be handicapped, mentally unsound or incapable of handling his affairs, et cetera - are properly managed and accounted for.

Secondly, to address the question of whether an executor needs the court's permission to deal with the content of the deceased's will.

An executor will have to apply to court to take out a probate to deal with the will. This is to ensure the will is affirmed as bona fide, and due authority is obtained to deal with the assets.

Finally, the time limit for the proper execution of a will.

The courts expect a will to be executed within a "reasonable time" of a person's death.

For practical reasons this would be within six months of the person's death. Beyond that, reasons will have to be furnished to the court for the delay. The time factor is meant to avoid practical difficulties such as tracing the assets after death, which if left for too long may dissipate.