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Friday, October 23, 2015

The "team captain" approach to naming executors can pit the teams against each other

In a blended family in which both parents have adult children from previous marriages, who do the spouses appoint as their executors? Usually each of them will name the other as their first choice, but then they are faced with the decision of who should be named as alternates.

This is where they cast around for the best candidates for the job. As with most people, they consider their children first when it comes to eligible executors. Should they name all of them? One of them? None of them? What is the fairest way for everyone? Unfortunately, many of them come up with the idea that I call the Team Captain approach.

The team captain approach consists of choosing one child of the husband's previous marriage and one child of the wife's previous marriage, and naming them as co-executors. When I ask the parents to explain this choice to me, I almost always hear the same rationale, which is "we want one from both sides".

To me, this is a very poor choice of wording, and a poor choice of executors. The first thing they have done is to convey the message to the children that they are not really all one family in which everyone is equal. They have sent the message that no one child could be trusted to look after everyone, and that each "side" needs its own representative in order to get fair treatment. They have planted the seed of doubt that one "side" can trust the other.

This changes the dynamic between the two co-executors. Instead of setting them up for cooperation and compromise where necessary, each feels that he or she is the advocate for their side. It can be much harder to get things done if they feel that the pressure is on them to stand up for their side rather than to be agreeable.

I understand that from the parents' point of view, they have avoided showing favoritism to either side of the family. But in doing so, they have aggravated any existing resentments or feelings of competition.

Perhaps an better solution would be to choose a neutral third party who belongs to no side and is accessible and accountable to all of the children.

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