A few weeks ago we blogged about the death of actor James Gandolfini and how he had several interesting clauses in his will, including the naming of co-executors of his estate. In general, it’s not a good idea to name more than one executor to manage your estate after you die. While this isn’t a guarantee that your estate will run into difficulty, it can be a practical hurdle that causes delays, increased costs, and even runs the risk of causing family disputes. Here’s why having co-executors in New York is something you probably want to avoid.
Settling an Estate
In New York, probate courts are called Surrogate’s Courts. These courts serve to supervise the process through which the property you leave behind after you die is transferred to new owners. Whether those owners are your children, your spouse, charities you named in your will, or even creditors who claim your property to recover unpaid debts you left behind, it’s up to your estate executor to complete this process.
The executor will have to not only identify the kinds of property you own, but will also have to locate and notify anyone who is entitled to receive that property. This process, known as the estate settlement process, can take a lot of time and can require the executor to perform some very specific and detail oriented tasks.
Fairness, Security, and Competence
There are several reasons why people choose to have co-executors. First, many parents choose co-executor children in an attempt to seem fair. They reason that if they choose one child to serve as an executor and not another, this might cause disharmony.
Second, some people choose co-executors because they believe this will make the probate process more secure or better protected from mismanagement. Third, some people choose co-executors because they think one person is more capable of being an executor than the other, or one has more knowledge than the other.
In all of the above situations, choosing a co-executor can be counterproductive. If you want to appear fair, it’s almost always better to choose a professional executor than it is to choose two or more co-executors. Similarly, protecting against mismanagement and ensuring competency is best done by either selecting a single executor who has the advice of a competent attorney, or by selecting a professional executor.
In Praise of Co-Executors
While co-executors isn’t always a good idea, they can be useful in some situations. For example, multiple executors can serve as a system of checks and balances, allowing you to appoint people to watch over one another as they manage your estate. There might also be individual circumstances that could prompt you to choose more than one executor, but you should always ask your lawyer about it first.