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Sunday, January 16, 2011

Executors from two sides of the family

The choice of executor is an issue that takes many of us quite a while to settle, as it should. The choice of executor is crucial to the efficient and timely administration of an estate. If you think otherwise, perhaps you should read the comments and questions left on this blog and many others about the problems people have dealing with reluctant, secretive, aggressive or greedy executors. It's important that each of us examines all of the possibilities clearly and do the best that we can for our families left behind.

Recently I was asked by a woman who is in her second marriage whether it's a good idea to appoint two executors. They would each represent one "side" of the family. In other words, one would be from her family, likely one of her adult children, and the other would be from her husband's family. This is a very common idea. I've seen it many times over the years and it's generally thought to be a sort of compromise.

I'd like to look a bit closer at this arrangement. In particular, I want to look at why someone might want to set things up this way.

If you asked someone why this might be a good idea for them, you would likely hear answers that have to do with making sure that everyone has a say, everyone is represented, and everyone has a way of making sure that things are fair. Nobody wants to feel that they are at the mercy of someone in the "other" family. Picking one person from one side without equal representation would make the other side unhappy.

Ok, that's the surface. But what's beneath all of this?

At the very core of the problem is the fact that the two sides don't trust each other. The people making the wills are expecting trouble between the two factions. They already know the two sides aren't going to get along. So how does it make sense to try to force people who don't trust each other to work together? This seems particularly problematic when the work that has to be done arises at a time when emotions are running high due to the loss of a loved one, and when old resentments surface.

It seems unfair to the two individuals who are chosen to captain their testamentary teams, and who will be exposed to immense pressure from their sides of the family. It also doesn't seem to be a particularly good idea for the estate, since joint executor decisions need to be made jointly, and that's going to be hard for the executors to do.

A better solution for a family in this situation is to find one neutral party to be the executor. Forget trying to bring two opposing camps together. The couple making the wills might choose one of their siblings, a close family friend or a trust company.

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