What Happens if Co-Executors of an Estate Cannot Agree?

By Phil M. Fowler

Prudent estate planning principles might suggest that two heads are better than one, particularly with regard to the appointment of co-executors to administer an estate. The general intention for appointing co-executors is to prevent fraud, self-dealing, and poor administration by requiring two votes on all actions. A problem, however, can arise when the co-executors simply cannot agree on a decision. Third-party intervention is often the only way to resolve a disagreement between co-executors.

Prudent estate planning principles might suggest that two heads are better than one, particularly with regard to the appointment of co-executors to administer an estate. The general intention for appointing co-executors is to prevent fraud, self-dealing, and poor administration by requiring two votes on all actions. A problem, however, can arise when the co-executors simply cannot agree on a decision. Third-party intervention is often the only way to resolve a disagreement between co-executors.

Abstention

Sometimes co-executors disagree for moral or ethical reasons. For example, the executors may have discretionary authority to provide a distribution to one of several beneficiaries, and one of the executors may be morally opposed to supporting, say, a specific religious organization that the other executor wants to support. The executor with the moral dilemma can choose to abstain from voting, which will effectively allow the other executor to move forward with the action without forcing the first executor to support a cause in which she does not personally believe. This, of course, requires some level of cooperation between the two executors.

Protect your loved ones. Start My Estate Plan

Tie-breaking

Wills that appoint co-executors often provide a backup plan to resolve anticipated stalemates between the executors. If the will provisions allow for a tie-breaking vote, the co-executors can obtain that vote from a third party. The will may or may not identify the specific person entitled to cast the tie-breaking vote. However, if a will does not expressly allow for the use of a third party in this manner, the co-executors cannot use this as a solution.

Lawsuit

Sometimes the only way for co-executors to work together is through coercive action in court. State probate judges have the legal authority to resolve disputes between co-executors. The judge will typically hold a hearing at which both executors have the opportunity to present their arguments. Afterward, the judge will issue an order in favor of one of the executors and both executors must comply with that judicial order.

Standing

Not just anybody can file a lawsuit to resolve co-executor conflicts. Generally, most state laws require the person filing the lawsuit to prove that he has standing with respect to the will, which generally means he has some interest in the probate of the will. For instance, both of the executors have standing as do each of the beneficiaries identified in the will.

Protect your loved ones. Start My Estate Plan
Can There Be Three Executors of a Will?

References

Related articles

Can the Executor of a Will Put Property in Probate?

Next of Kin Rights vs. Executor of the Will

If an Executor Is Not Available Who Could Execute a Will?

LegalZoom. Legal help is here. Start Here. Wills. Trusts. Attorney help.

Related articles

How to Stop Estate Executors That Steal Everything

An Executor's Duties to a Beneficiary

How to Remove an Executor or Trustee for California Probate

Who Enforces the Execution of a Will?

Browse by category
Ready to Begin? GET STARTED