When ONE is Better than TWO
A more common name for what we used to call an “Executor” of a Will is now a “Personal Representative”. In multi-child families, many parents may appoint two (or possibly all) of their children as the Personal Representatives of their Will. They do this perhaps to not show favoritism towards one child or another or maybe their thought is that the Personal Representative’s role would be less of a burden if more than one of their children was named to that role. This is often a concern if the named Personal Representatives live a great distance from the each other or if there are communication difficulties among any of them.
The wording of the Personal Representative’s appointment is best stated as something like “I appoint my son Bob to by my Personal Representative but if he is unable or unwilling, then I appoint my daughter Mary to be my Personal Representative”. The actual wording should ideally be suggested/prepared by the parents’ lawyer who may have prepared their Will and the appointment wording may vary from that used in this example. It is best to name a sole Personal Representative but to also include verbiage that permits the opportunity for others (if applicable) to optionally assist the named sole Personal Representative where needed and for them to work under the direction of the sole Personal Representative.
Why only one Personal Representative? A Personal Representative has “complete and full authority” over all matters of the estate. The major concern with two or more Personal Representatives to a Will means that all must act together on all aspects of decision-making, sharing of information, Probate issues, documentation, insurance, banking, investment and legal matters. We can easily imagine that multiple Personal Representatives could easily become a major concern and incur more than normal charges, delays, confusion and misinterpretation to the activities of the role. Settling an estate can be an emotionally charged and stressful exercise even for those who may be fully prepared to do the work.
When asked if you agree to be named as a Personal Representative to a Will, confirm whether you are the sole Personal Representative before giving your consent to the owner (testator) of the Will. If there are Co-Personal Representatives, it is best to quickly confirm that the named Personal Representatives agree that they can work together. Ideally one of them would agree, with the consent of the others, as the lead.
If there is any reason to believe that any of the Co-Personal Representatives might have communications difficulties with the others for any reason, the named Personal Representative should discuss his or her concerns with the other parties and recommend that only he or she manage the Estate. There may be some activities that the other parties can do under direction of the named Personal Representative who would direct their capacity to assist.
In the case where all parties named as Co-Personal Representatives to a Will agree that only one of them should act as Personal Representative, they should submit a Renunciation of Executorship form that can be drawn up by the lawyer for the estate. As is obvious from this discussion, it is always best to confirm the nature of the appointment of the Personal Representative with the Testator before providing your agreement and consent to act as their Personal Representative.
If you are asked to be a Personal Representative and accept the responsibility, it is important to know how the Will describes your role. Based upon the above, and your knowledge of any other parties named, you may recommend to the testator that he or she make any necessary changes to it as per the above discussion and communicate their decision to any others (e.g. family members) who may feel they too should have a role. This would save you, as the Personal Representative, much grief when the time comes for you to step in and manage the final Estate. During the execution of your duties, keeping beneficiaries informed of your progress will provide a more positive outcome for all involved.