Using Multiple Executors: Blessing or Curse?

First printed in the Buffalo News Homefinder on March 3, 2012

Naming an executor to an estate can be a difficult task, especially knowing that this decision will create stress on top of emotional pain. Sometimes, the will names multiple executors, thinking that they will help each other deal with the stress of overseeing an estate—but is this really the case?

An executor is in charge of paying final debts (taxes, bills, administration expenses), distributing remaining assets to family members, and making decisions to achieve these two goals on behalf of the deceased. While many believe that being named executor is a family honor, it often means making difficult choices that not everyone will be happy with. The executor should be someone making quick, financial decisions that are best in the long term, even if that means disregarding some family voices. Being a lone executor is difficult enough, but when there are more voices to disrupt the timing of the decision, things can become more chaotic.

Multiple executors are often named for what seem like good reasons. Perhaps the deceased wants to avoid family drama by allowing more than one person to have a voice in the decision making process. The will writer may also think that multiple executors can be a support system, splitting the work evenly. They may even think that sharing some of the stress will help foster a good relationship and bring the executors closer. Certainly, there are positives to having multiple executors, but there are also horror stories associated with multiple executors.

Where one executor is in charge of making all of the final choices, having more than one person can delay many decisions. A cumbersome decision-making process can actually lead to more legal disputes, and these disputes, obviously, will cause more family drama than relieve it. Also, having more than one executor means that every executor needs to sign off on decisions: if one of the executors lives far away from everyone else, families spend time and money sending paperwork back and forth for original signatures. These delays could actually mean missing important deadlines, and causing additional problems for families.

Sometimes, when families are spread out across the country, only one executor ends up making the decisions: having more than one executor causes more trouble for him or her, having to send paperwork and news across the country to others.

When trying to decide on who should be an executor to an estate, one should consider the following: who is good with money? Who is good at making quick decisions? Is there anyone I know who will be fair to other family members but also have the benefit of the whole family in mind? Is having more than one executor really necessary?

Certainly, for some families, having more than one executor works. But for others, multiple executors create stalemates and cumbersome arguments. Some people worry that children will feel slighted by not being named an executor: as you write your will, sit down and discuss the responsibilities with them. Families who know the role of the executor, and why a certain person was chosen, can help give positive input without any extra drama.

Reprinted with the permission of the Buffalo News Homefinder

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