Co-Executors: Can One Executor Act Without the Other?

Written by Fraser Stewart
Reading time 5 minutes
Co-Executors: Can One Executor Act Without the Other? image

In the process of drafting your will, one critical decision involves selecting an executor, the individual responsible for carrying out your final wishes. While it's common to appoint a single person, you may also opt for co-executors to work together in managing your estate. In this article, we'll explore the reasons for choosing co-executors, their ability to act independently, and how to ensure a smooth estate administration process for a UK-based audience.

What is an executor of the will?

The executor of the will carries out all the administrative duties of your estate after your death. It is a large responsibility, and the executor is bound by law to handle the estate as per the stipulations of the will. The executor must also act lawfully and ensure all estate taxes and debts are paid. 

What are the duties of an executor?

The executor of a will plays a pivotal role in managing the deceased's estate, carrying out numerous administrative and legal responsibilities to ensure a smooth and efficient distribution of assets in accordance with the will's stipulations. The duties of an executor include:

The benefits of co-executors

As you can see from the list above, there are a lot of tasks an executor needs to do, and it can be a lot of work to leave to one person. Many people decide to appoint a few executors to divide the work between themselves. It lightens the load on an individual person and alleviates their stress. By having joint executors, you can assemble people with a range of skills needed to handle the process.

Another benefit of having co-executors is that it offers an extra layer of accountability, making it less likely that the co-executors will not carry out your wishes. If the co-executors do not know each other or one of them is a professional, then it is less likely that they will go against your wishes in the will. This is particularly important if you have made “controversial” decisions in your will, like cutting someone out or leaving all your money to charity.

One of the main benefits of co-executors is that you can have a legal or tax professional (or both) act as co-executor with a friend. This gives them the assistance they need to handle their duties and gives them someone to turn to if they have questions. The professionals can handle a lot of the complex legwork like paperwork and taxes so that they are done correctly, and you still have a loved one as the face of your estate to handle the more personal details.

How to pick co-executors

When selecting co-executors for your will, there are several factors to consider to ensure a smooth and efficient estate administration process. In this section, we will discuss the importance of trust and professionalism, as well as the necessity for cooperation and willingness to act.

Trust and professionalism

The first rule of picking co-executors is to choose individuals you trust implicitly. Trust is essential, as you need to be confident that they will carry out your wishes, handle the estate responsibly, and act in the best interests of your beneficiaries.

Additionally, it's wise to consider the professional expertise of your chosen co-executors. While there are no specific rules regarding who can serve as an executor, hiring a solicitor, tax professional, or experienced estate administrator as one of the co-executors can help ensure that everything is handled correctly and in compliance with the law. They can provide valuable guidance and assistance with the complex paperwork, taxes, and legal aspects of the process.

Cooperation and willingness

Once you've established trust and ensured that your potential co-executors possess the necessary skills, it's crucial to consider their ability to work together effectively. Disagreements and conflicts between co-executors can hinder the estate administration process and cause unnecessary delays.

Before finalising your selection, discuss your intentions with the potential co-executors to ensure they are willing to take on this significant responsibility. Confirm that they understand the demands of the role and are prepared to collaborate with their fellow co-executors to fulfil their duties.

By considering trust, professionalism, and the ability to cooperate, you can choose co-executors who will work together efficiently to administer your estate and honour your wishes.

How many co-executors should I have?

As many as you want. There can be such a thing as too many cooks in the kitchen, so you should avoid naming too many co-executors. However, to ensure you still have enough people to act as co-executors, you can name alternatives who will be joint executors in the event that one or more of your preferred co-executors cannot perform their duties. For example, your co-executors would ideally live near each other because they will have paperwork that they both need to sign.

Can joint executors act alone?

No, a co-executor cannot act alone unless the other steps down either temporarily or permanently. However, the joint executors can divide the duties between them in order to get them done quicker and play to each executor’s strengths. All of the paperwork will need the signature of all of the co-executors, so there is no opportunity for one executor to go rogue without the others realising.

The importance of communication among co-executors

Clear and effective communication is crucial when you have co-executors. This ensures that all tasks are completed efficiently and in accordance with the wishes of the deceased. Co-executors should create a plan outlining how they will divide the tasks and make decisions. They should also schedule regular meetings to discuss the progress of the estate administration and address any issues that arise.

If disagreements occur between co-executors, it is important to find a resolution quickly to avoid delays in the administration process. If necessary, they can seek mediation or legal advice to help resolve disputes.

What if a co-executor is unwilling or unable to act?

There may be instances where a co-executor is unable or unwilling to perform their duties. This could be due to a change in personal circumstances, illness, or relocation. In such cases, it is essential to have a backup plan in place. When drafting your will, consider naming alternative executors who can step in if needed. This ensures that there are always people available to carry out your wishes and administer your estate.

If a co-executor needs to step down during the administration process, they can do so by renouncing their role. This involves completing a legal document called a Deed of Renunciation, which formally relinquishes their executor duties. The remaining co-executors will then continue to administer the estate, either alone or with the assistance of an alternative executor.

What happens if co-executors don't cooperate or cannot agree?

In rare cases, co-executors may find themselves unable to cooperate or agree on certain aspects of the estate administration. This can lead to delays and complications in carrying out the deceased's wishes. If co-executors cannot resolve their differences, they may need to seek the assistance of a mediator or solicitor to help them reach an agreement.

If the situation remains unresolved, an application can be made to the court for guidance or intervention. In extreme cases, the court may decide to remove one or more of the co-executors and appoint a replacement. This process can be time-consuming and costly, so it is best to avoid such disputes by carefully selecting co-executors and ensuring they are able to work together effectively.

In conclusion

Appointing co-executors for your will can provide numerous benefits, including sharing the workload, offering a range of skills and expertise, and ensuring greater accountability. However, it is essential to carefully select your co-executors, ensuring they are trustworthy and capable of working together effectively. Communication is key, and any disagreements should be addressed promptly to avoid complications in the estate administration process. Remember that co-executors cannot act alone, and all decisions must be made jointly to ensure the deceased's wishes are carried out in accordance with the law.

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