When you’re making your will, a big decision is who you choose to be your executor—the person who will oversee the probate of your estate. Many people name their spouse or adult child. You can, however, name more than one person to serve as executor.
Are there advantages to naming multiple executors instead of a single executor? The question commonly arises when people have two or more children and don’t want to slight any of them by naming only one to serve as executor.
Drawbacks of Naming Co-Executors
It is understandable that a parent would not want to appear to play favorites in naming an executor. However, naming more than one executor of estate just to avoid hurt feelings can cause more harm than good. If co-executors are named in the will, all of them must act in unison. That means they must all:
- apply to have the will probated (if probate is necessary)
- make all decisions unanimously
- sign property deeds and titles for transferring assets, and
- sign for the estate’s financial accounts, investment accounts, tax returns, and any other paperwork.
In addition, they will all be responsible for paying the estate’s bills and debts (from estate assets, not their own pockets), and they will all be liable for damage to or loss of any assets.
Because co-executors must agree and act together, naming multiple executors can cause delays and inconvenience. This is especially true if any of the co-executors lives out of town or out of state.
If the co-executors have a tendency to disagree, it can cause serious problems with getting your estate wrapped up. In cases of extreme disagreements, one executor (or a beneficiary) can even ask the probate court to remove one or more of the other executors, so the estate can be settled without too much delay. As you can imagine, such disputes can result in many years of resentment—exactly what you are trying to avoid in the first place.
If you are worried about discord among multiple siblings, the best solution is often to explain to the children both why you are naming only one executor for your estate and why you’ve chosen the particular child. Usually, the other children see the reasonableness of the choice—and may even be relieved that they won’t have the responsibility and work of serving as executor.
As a backup, you could name the other children as alternate executors of the estate. That way, if your first-choice executor does not survive you or is unable or unwilling to serve, the alternate executor takes over. This strategy lets all the children know that you trust them with your estate and just want to make sure things are handled efficiently.
When Do Co-Executors Make Sense?
There are some situations in which it can make sense to name co-executors. For example, you might want to name your spouse as your executor, but worry that he or she might not be able to handle probate of the estate alone. In that case, a co-executor can provide needed assistance, ensure that your will’s instructions are followed correctly, and reassure beneficiaries that their inheritance is being handled competently.
Or perhaps you own a business that your spouse isn’t involved in. Naming a business partner or attorney as co-executor will help ensure that decisions regarding the business will be handled appropriately and that your business partners’ concerns will be addressed.
To learn more about making a will, check out Nolo's section on Wills.