Can I designate multiple executors in my will?
Choosing who to be the executor of your estate is a big decision—and not necessarily an easy one. The person (or entity, if you choose a bank or trust company) will have the significant task of managing your estate. So what if you don’t want to burden one person with all the work? Or hurt anyone’s feelings? Can you designate more than one executor?
The short answer is yes, you can name multiple executors.
But is it a good idea? That’s a bigger question. Let’s start with a clear understanding of an executor’s duties.
What does an executor do?
An executor handles the administration of the estate through the probate process. For some estates, the task is relatively straightforward. For others, it could be incredibly complex. In either case, it will likely take at least three to five months and could even take years.
An executor’s primary tasks include:
- Opening probate with the court, which involves filing a petition for probate
- Locating and gaining access to the deceased’s assets, including bank accounts, investment accounts, safe deposit boxes, etc
- Providing notice to any heirs and interested parties, including immediate family members and creditors
- Managing the administration of the estate, which might involve making mortgage payments, closing credit cards, and notifying the Social Security Administration of the deceased’s death
- Paying the deceased’s debts out of the estate, including funeral expenses and taxes
- Distributing remaining funds and/or property to the deceased’s heirs
- Closing the estate by notifying the court that all necessary probate steps have been completed.
How to designate more than one executor
If you choose to designate more than one executor, the process is as simple as designating a single executor. You simply provide each person’s information as the executor in the will.
Doing so will make each of them an executor with full authority to manage the estate.
Benefits of designating multiple executors
Even though you can designate multiple executors, does it make sense to? Let’s address the pros and cons.
There are some situations when it may make sense to designate more than one executor.
- The process of serving as executor would be particularly difficult for someone—for instance, an elderly spouse. In this instance, appointing a co-executor could provide them assistance and support.
- The drafter of the will (testator) owns a business or other complex asset. Designating both an executor who is familiar with personal assets and one who is familiar with business assets, such as a business partner, can ensure that a single executor isn’t managing assets that are entirely foreign to them.
- The testator has digital assets but wants to name an executor who is not particularly tech-savvy. Naming a co-executor that has the necessary tech knowledge could be helpful to the executor that doesn’t. In general, co-executors may be useful where there are assets that require particular subject matter expertise.
Drawbacks of designating multiple executors
Sometimes people name more than one executor because they’re afraid of creating conflict, but multiple individuals attempting to co-manage an estate can get a little muddy.
- Unless a specific provision specifies otherwise, co-executors must act in unison. That means all decisions must be made unanimously, and each executor must sign any documents that require signatures. These requirements can create administrative headaches or outright conflict. (A will can specifically designate that co-executors make in an alternative manner, such as by majority vote.)
- All executors are liable for any damage to assets or malfeasance. Presumably, no testator names an executor they believe will act without fiduciary diligence, but more executors create greater exposure to liability.
- Disagreements between or among executors can cause delays in the probate process, and there are plenty of opportunities for disagreement: who is taking on what tasks, how to manage property and assets, or how to handle family members.
Unless you have a specific reason to name multiple executors, choosing one executor generally provides more clarity and guidance to your loved ones—plus fewer opportunities for resentments, especially if you talk to your family beforehand to let them know the reasoning behind your choices.
An executor can recruit help, like accountants or financial advisors. Or when an executor will not be physically present (for instance, if they live in another state), they can designate a resident agent or provide a limited power of attorney to someone to assist them.
An alternative to naming multiple executors is to name an alternate executor that can serve if your named executor is unwilling or unable to take on that role.
Whether you name one or multiple executors, creating a thorough estate plan is critical to caring for your loved ones’ futures. Contact us if you have any questions.