People usually designate one person to serve as the executor of their will, but it is also possible to designate two or more co-executors. Most lawyers advise that one executor is best, as it avoids potential disputes, but there are situations where it may make sense to appoint co-executors.
Duties of an Executor
An executor of a will has the following responsibilities:
- Filing papers to have the will admitted to probate
- Notifying the decedent's heirs and creditors of the probate
- Paying the debts of the decedent
- Managing and preserving the assets of the estate
- Assuring that the estate is distributed to the appropriate heirs, as required by the will
The executor of a will has a duty to act in good faith, to follow the testator's wishes as expressed in the will, and to act in the interests of the heirs and creditors. This is called a fiduciary duty.
A co-executor has the same responsibilities as any other executor but has an additional duty to assure that other co-executors fulfill their fiduciary duties.
Ideally, anyone you choose as executor should be someone you trust. They should also be someone you believe has the ability to handle the duties of an executor, who needs to be able to communicate effectively with the court, the creditors of the estate, the heirs, and any attorneys, accountants, realtors, or other professionals needed to assist with the estate. An executor also need to be able to keep and organize adequate records, including court papers and accounting documents.
If you are selecting co-executors, particularly if they are siblings, it is important to evaluate their ability to collaborate in exercising their duties. Some siblings get along very well, whereas in other families there are varying degrees of conflict.
Your will can name two or more co-executors. You can provide that your co-executors must act together or that each may act independently of the others. If you designate three or more co-executors, you can allow action to be taken by a majority vote.
Advantages of Co-Executors
Providing you believe they can get along and cooperate, co-executors may be advantageous for the following reasons:
- They can divide up the work.
- They have each other for consultation and support if questions or problems arise.
- They may each have strengths that apply to certain aspects of the estate. For example, one may have special knowledge in real estate and another in dealing with digital assets, or one may be good at organizing the paperwork and the other at communicating with heirs and creditors.
- If you have a business, it may be good to have a co-executor who understands business matters. For example, you might designate your spouse and your business partner as co-executors.
- If you aren't convinced that you can fully trust any one person to serve as executor, co-executors can be used to keep each other honest. Of course, this usually involves selecting co-executors who don't fully trust each other, which can also increase the likelihood of conflict between them.
- It may avoid feelings of favoritism to designate more than one of your children.
There may be other reasons unique to your situation that would make having co-executors a good idea. More information about designating co-executors can be obtained by consulting an attorney or using an online service provider.