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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Will your executor be able to handle family pressures?

When you chose the executor of your will, did you specifically consider your candidate's ability to withstand family pressures and politics? If you're like most people, you didn't. In my view, this is a factor that more people need to think about.

Many people choose their child or their children as their executors without giving it any thought at all. That's probably ok if you only have one child. If you have more than one child, or if you have a blended family, you need to put more thought into it. When I push my clients to talk out their reasons for choosing a particular child, the most I ever get is that the child "gets along with" the others.

That's important, yes, but there's more to it than that.

Ask yourself some of these questions about the child that you've chosen as your executor, in each case imagining that you've passed away and your child is in charge:

  • If a sibling telephoned or showed up in tears or in a rage about a perceived problem with the estate, how would your executor handle the situation?
  • If a sibling is not in agreement with the others on an estate issue, causing arguments, and it appears that the problem is the sibling's spouse, would your child be able to deal with that spouse?
  • If a sibling accused your child of deliberately or negligently taking estate assets, how would your child react?
  • If all of the siblings ganged up on your child, demanding that the estate be done differently in some way, would your child be able to calm the group and stay in control?
  • If one of the siblings took your child aside and asked for special treatment from the estate, such as a larger share, forgiveness of a debt or an advance on their inheritance, could your child stay strong and say no?
  • If the estate lawyer called your child and said "we have a problem with the estate", would your child be clear-headed and confident enough to make important decisions?

When choosing your executor(s) you must consider not only what works for you now, but whether your choice is going to be a good one after you've passed away. You must consider how your executor is going to handle the job. One of the dangers is that the estate will bog down in delays and arguments. Another danger is that your executor will get so fed up, he or she will stop acting as your executor, leaving you with someone you didn't choose.

If your family is populated with strong personalities, or for any reason you worry that there will be too much pressure on your executor, consider using a trust company as a neutral executor.


  1. What if the executor is also the main beneficiary and just declares to the other beneficiaries that there is nothing left for them without providing any evidence?

    1. I'm not sure what you mean by "the main beneficiary". At first I thought you meant that the "main" beneficiary was the residuary beneficiary and the others were to receive specific gifts. That can't be the case though, because the specific beneficiaries would receive their inheritances before the residuary beneficiary would get anything.

      Perhaps it means that the residue is to be shared, but this person gets a larger share. If that's the case, debts and expenses should reduce the estate pro rata, so that everyone receives less.

      Most beneficiaries in this situation would not accept an executor's word without evidence. In a perfect world, sure, that would work, but in reality it doesn't.

      If you are a residuary beneficiary, request (or demand) a full accounting. If you are a specific beneficiary you likely won't get an accounting but at the very least you need a letter from the executor that gives the paper trail you'll need if you find out he is lying.

      I know that executors get bent out of shape every time a beneficiary asks for an accounting, but in my view if there is nothing to hide, why are they hiding it? An honest executor should be able to provide an accounting on relatively short notice.



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