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That exceptional administrator

A week of law. Almost a week of African-American research. A week of DNA. A week of federal records. Heading into a week of methodology.

Oh, and don’t forget the more than a week of the Germans.

It’s institute season, plus a conference and webinar here and there, and The Legal Genealogist is having a blast.

Not sleeping much, and the house is a wreck, and the blog is collecting dust, but hey…

So… snippets as time allows.

snippet 5

Little bits and pieces of genealogy like the answer to a question that came up twice in the last 36 hours, which kind of suggests the need for an answer.

What is — and what’s the function of — an administrator C.T.A.?

In cases where someone dies with a will, we know there should be an executor named in the will — the person whose job it is to carry out the wishes of the deceased as to what should be done with all of the deceased person’s property.1

In cases where someone dies without leaving a will, we know there should be an administrator named by the court — the person whose job it is to carry out what the law says should be done with all of the deceased person’s property.2

Which is an easy way, when we as genealogists come across court records talking about the estate, to figure out if the deceased left a will or not. Executor? There’s a will. Administrator? There’s no will.


What happens when the person named as executor in the will isn’t around to do the job? Maybe he or she has already died, or moved away, or doesn’t qualify legally to serve, or just plain flat out refuses?

Unless the will says what should happen in that situation (“my wife Mary or, in her absence, my son John”), the court has to step in to name somebody to carry out the directions of the will. That’s not an executor — that by definition is the person chosen by the deceased. So it has to be an administrator — a person chosen by the court — but one bound to do what the deceased wanted rather than what the law would mandate in a case without a will.

Enter the administrator C.T.A.

The initials are an abbreviation of the Latin phrase cum testamento annexo4 — or, in English, with the will annexed. And it’s used in exactly this kind of case: “administration granted where a testator makes an incomplete will, without naming any executors, or where he names incapable persons, or where the executors named refuse to act.”5

In short, it’s the one case we’ll find where there is an administrator even though the deceased did leave a will.

• Administrator — no will. Chase all the other estate documents, but don’t waste time looking specifically for a will.

• Executor — will. Chase all the other estate documents, too, but make sure to look for a will.

• Administrator C.T.A. — a will but no executor. Chase all the other estate documents, too, make sure to look for a will, and look for the court documents naming the administrator.

Nobody ever said this would be easy, right?

Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “Snippets 2021 v.5,” The Legal Genealogist ( : posted 23 July 2021).


  1. See Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 456, “executor.”
  2. See ibid., 40, “administrator.”
  3. You knew that was coming, right?
  4. See Black, A Dictionary of Law, 162, “C.T.A.”
  5. Ibid., 308, “cum testamento annexo.”
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