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Friday, November 18, 2011

One executor? Or should I have more?

I'm always telling my readers that they should put some careful thought into their choice of executor, so I was glad to see the following question from a reader who is obviously weighing his or her options. Here is the question:

"What is your opinion in having more than one executor named in a Will vs.one?"
Let me start by saying that there is no one right answer to that question that will suit everyone. My experience over the years has been that when there is more than one executor, they are usually siblings. This is not often a good idea simply because of the friction that develops between them.

That doesn't mean that multiple executors is never a good idea. An idea that is becoming more popular is naming a trust company as a co-executor with a spouse or child of the testator. That combines the expertise of the trust company with the family knowledge of the spouse or child. That is most often very successful.

There are some things you should take into consideration when making your decision about whether to go with one executor or more than one. First of all, ask yourself why you feel you need or want more than one. Is it because you suspect that one of the people couldn't really handle the job? Do you think it's too much work or too complicated? Do you feel that one of them might just need someone to keep an eye on him? Or are you afraid to offend someone by leaving him or her out? If you are honest about your motives, you might just find your answer staring you in the face.

If you're afraid that the job is too complicated for the person you have in mind, then he or she is not the right person. It's as simple as that. You won't be around to offer that person help or advice, so don't put anyone in charge who is going to fold under pressure or be so overwhelmed that they simply walk away from your estate.

If you feel that the person needs someone to keep an eye on them, again, this is not a good choice for you. I can't even begin to describe the number of executors I've seen who have ignored the will or parts of it, or who have dragged an estate out for years because it was to their financial advantage. Why put someone in charge if you suspect they might be unreasonable or bull-headed or even dishonest? Having a co-executor working with that person only means an unending fight and won't solve the problems that the first executor will create.

Many parents automatically name both or all of their children as their executors. They tell me they do this because they want to treat the children the same and not favour one above the other. They even expect the children to work together as executors when one lives in another country or province. In some cases their will states that if the children as beneficiaries can't agree on who gets which items, the executor will decide. But if the children are the executors, then who decides? A better solution is to name one child as the executor (choose the oldest, or the one with a job in law, or the one who lives closest, for example) and name the other as the alternate. The alternate executor takes over if the first named executor refuses or for some reason is unable to act as executor.

Having stated the possible downside of having more than one executor, I am compelled to point out the drawback of having only one. Having just one might create a whole different set of problems, largely because lay executors tend to inadvertently create problems for themselves. These are usually mistakes such as ignoring parts of the will, or withholding information from the beneficiaries. This type of mistake happens because executors in general don't have a good understanding of their role and their limitations.

So, what's the answer? One or more than one? It will depend on who you have available to you, and how the various parties get along. Be realistic about how any given candidate handles money and how he or she communicates with others. Try to leave behind outdated ideas such as "honouring" someone by naming them as your executor, and make a truly business-like decision. Who is the best candidate(s) for the job?

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