When drafting a will, you need to decide who’ll be the executor or personal representative handling your estate when you die.
Individuals who serve in these roles are fiduciaries with a duty to properly administer your estate. When selecting an executor or personal representative, many people gravitate toward individuals they feel should handle the task — for example, a surviving spouse or oldest child.
But you should also consider whether the person has the requisite time, financial savvy and attention to detail. Dealing with all the tasks to close an estate can be a tough, time-consuming job.
This may lead you to wonder about naming two people to the job so you take some of the burden off of a single person or combine the skills of one individual with the attributes of another. Or, you may have another reason altogether, such as not wanting to hurt someone’s feelings.
Weigh the decision carefully. There are cases in which co-executors or co-personal representatives work well together. But there are times when it can lead to delays in administration, strife and even litigation. You may think you’re easing the burden when you may actually be adding to it.
In many cases, it’s best to have one executor or personal representative because it’s easier and more efficient. If the person named in your will dies or cannot take on the role, a successor or alternate executor or personal representative can (and should) be named.
If you believe you don’t have anyone who can act alone, then selecting co-fiduciaries may be the choice you want to make. Just make sure the two parties can work together.
There are many choices, including:
- A surviving spouse and an adult child,
- A surviving spouse or child and a professional, such as an attorney or CPA,
- Two or more adult children,
- A family member and a business partner, or
- A family member and an institution, such as a bank or trust company.
Sometimes a good team is a relative who knows the dynamics of the family and a professional or institutional fiduciary who can handle the financial aspects of the estate. This usually works better than having two family members handle the job. Why? Two family members may have a tendency to bring emotional baggage into the picture — if there’s any to bring.
Keep in mind, however, that more than one person can slow the process. For example, let’s say you have two children and you want to name them both because you don’t want either one to feel left out. In this scenario, they may both have to sign all documents related to the estate, including tax returns and checks to pay debts. This can be cumbersome, especially if they live far from each other.
Another concern with co-fiduciaries is that they may attempt to act alone. Communication is key. Co-executors or co-personal representatives should keep each other informed and consult with each other before making decisions.
If the two people aren’t on the same page, there could be a claim of breach of fiduciary duty if one of them believes the other is mismanaging the estate. In some cases, one of the individuals may go to probate court and ask for the other to be removed.
As you can see, it’s often advisable to name one executor or personal representative.
However, if you still want to name two or more people, choose carefully. Speak with your attorney to review the costs and benefits. Also, keep in mind that if co-executors or co-personal representatives have different attorneys, the attorneys should consult each other before making any decisions.