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Should you appoint joint executors?

Our People - Andrew Guile
14 March, 2024

Strictly, you only need one executor but you can have as many as four. Most people appoint one or two executors and it’s wise to provide in your will for replacement executors in case one or more of the executors die before you or are unable or unwilling to act as executor after you die. The main situation where having two or more executors is where there are trusts in your will and your executors are also the trustees.

Can you have two or more executors?

Yes, you can have up to four executors although wills appointing more than two are unusual.

The Pros and Cons of Joint Executors

Benefits of Joint Executors

  • They can share the responsibility and work
  • They may bring diverse skills and perspectives

Disadvantages of Joint Executors

  • Where documents must be signed by all executors, this can cause delay (especially if any executors live or work abroad)
  • If they find it difficult to work together, it can make the process longer, and more expensive, rather than less so
  • A dispute between joint executors may be difficult and expensive to resolve.  It may require multiple solicitors acting for the executors, or even an application to court to remove an executor, and appoint alternative administrators for the estate.

What is the role of joint executors?

Joint executors have the same legal responsibilities in regard to the administration of an estate as a sole executor, such as protecting the estate, valuing the estate, accounting to HMRC for any taxes due, and distributing the estate to beneficiaries as set out in the will.

Can joint executors act independently?

If a will appoints more than one executor then they should all be involved in the estate administration. If an application for a grant of probate is needed, they will all have to sign the necessary forms. If there is property to sell, they will all have to sign the paperwork.

However, this does not mean that a single executor cannot go to the deceased’s house and prepare an inventory by themselves. It does not mean that they all have to be involved in contacting banks to ascertain what savings the deceased had. They can agree to divide-up these tasks.

Can one executor remove another?

No, one executor cannot remove another without obtaining a court order. An executor can remove themselves as an executor by “renouncing” their appointment before carrying out any of the duties of an executor. Things can get complicated when an executor, who has already ‘intermeddled’ in the estate, wishes to step down from their role. In such a situation, it is advisable to seek legal guidance on the appropriate course of action.

Alternatively, an executor can have their ‘power reserved’. This is an alternative to renouncing. In these circumstances, the executor does not ‘prove’ the will to the Probate Registry and their name will not be on the grant of probate. However, having their power ‘reserve’ as opposed to renouncing altogether, the executor can step in to administer the estate should one or more of the ‘proving’ executors (those with their names on the grant of probate) pass away or be unable to act to complete the estate administration.

What happens when two executors of a will don’t agree?

Joint executors being unable to agree on key issues in an estate administration can cause significant problems and bring the administration grinding to a halt.

It is far better for executors who don’t get on with each other to try to agree that only one of them should deal with the administration. However, it’s often the case that they can’t agree on that either.

There are ways to try to move on from such an impasse, but the situation should be avoided, as it invariably increases the legal costs, and delays the administration. One solution is for each executor to have their own legal representation and those two firms to agree to instruct a third firm that is instructed by both. It should be obvious that having an estate pay for three lawyers rather than one is going to be extremely expensive and will be reducing the value of the estate passing to the beneficiaries.

Can a solicitor be a joint executor of a will?

A solicitor can be a joint executor with a family member or friend of the deceased but the solicitor will expect to be able to charge for their time. In contrast, the family member or friend will not charge. This creates a tension where the family member or friend may ask the solicitor to renounce to avoid the estate incurring their legal fees. This may well be appropriate if the value of the estate is small, however, in complex estates where a solicitor may have been instructed in any event, the family member or friend may well accept that the solicitor’s involvement and cost is needed.

What happens if a joint executor dies during probate?

If an executor dies in the United Kingdom, so long as there is a surviving executor who has proved the will, the survivor continues to act but the survivor will need to apply for a re-grant of probate to reflect that they alone now have the authority to administer the estate. On the death of the last surviving executor to prove the will, if there is an executor to whom power has been reserved, they may apply for a fresh grant of probate and complete the administration. If there is none, the situation can be complicated, and legal advice should be sought.

If you would like any help or advice on whether you should appoint a joint executor, or on any issues relating to probate, please do not hesitate to contact a member of our specialist Probate Solicitors or get in touch on 020 8492 2290.

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