What happens when there is conflict between the Executors of a Will?

Rosemary Carreras

It's common for people to appoint more than one executor in their Wills to administer their estate when they die - particularly where adult children are concerned, usually so they all have a say in how things are handled.  This is seen by many parents as the fairest approach - even if there are tensions or fractured relationships amongst siblings.  We hear time and time again that 'they'll have to sort it out'.  Surely the kids will be united in their grief and avoid arguments?  Unfortunately, this isn't always the case and we have seen a number of cases where executors (whether siblings or not) disagree.  

When conflict arises between executors, it usually results in delays in the administration process, increased costs and stress to all interested parties.  So what can we do as advisors to help guide our clients on who the appropriate people are to appoint and hopefully remove or minimise the potential for conflict? 

Below are some of the issues Coleman Greig believe are important to consider where multiple executors are proposed: 

Examples of common disputes are:

Administering an estate can be stressful at the best of times.  As an advisor, if you're asked by a client to be an executor, before you agree to take on the responsibility you must make sure that you properly inform yourself about the family dynamics and find out what you can about your co-executors' skills etc.  Encourage your client to keep his/her important papers in a safe place where they can be easily accessed by the appropriate people when the time comes.

If there is likely to be conflict between co-executors, consider asking your client to ensure that the Will gives you a casting vote in the event of a deadlock between executors.  Ensure that the Will is drafted by a solicitor experienced in estate planning.  Among other things, this ensures that the Will contains an appropriate charging clause so that your fees are covered and also contains a clause which gives you the ability to claim commission for your 'pains and trouble'.  

Once a person passes, if there are early signs of conflict amongst the executors and/or beneficiaries, an executor can always renounce his/her role but only before he/she has 'intermeddled' in the estate (before taking on some of the executorial duties like liaising with banks, solicitors, etc.).
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