An executor is the person named in a will to administer the estate when the will maker, or testator, dies. An executor should be trustworthy and financially responsible, as his role includes paying all the bills involved in the estate, distributing property, communicating with beneficiaries and heirs, and filing forms with the probate court, the IRS and other agencies. Pennsylvania law does not restrict the number of people you can name as joint executors.
Naming two or more people to serve as joint executors allows the co-executors to spread out the duties involved in settling an estate. Some will makers name two people to act as joint executors to ensure that one person has financial expertise and the other is a family member or someone close to the family. This enables the expert to handle the financial aspects of probate and the other person to distribute property and communicate with the family. Another situation that might call for joint executors is when a primary beneficiary of substantial assets lives somewhere other than Pennsylvania; an executor who lives in the same state as the beneficiary would be able to conveniently meet with her as necessary.
While a father might name joint executors to avoid offending one of his children, the decision could cause family resentments. If the children disagree during the course of probate administration, a long-term family rift could develop. Joint executors might also disagree on asset valuations or have trouble communicating with each other, resulting in confusion and duplication of efforts. For these reasons, it might be better to name just one executor, but also name alternative executors should the named executor wish to step down or is no longer able to continue in his role as executor.
In some cases, a joint executor can be held liable for the actions of the other executor. The executor’s responsibilities include paying the bills of the estate according to priorities set by Pennsylvania state law. If there is not enough money to pay all the debts, the creditors are paid proportionately. The executor is not responsible for the payment of any costs or debts of the estate unless he makes a mistake related to the estate. However, if a joint executor makes a mistake or mismanages the estate, the joint executor could be held accountable. Pennsylvania law requires a joint executor to make a claim against the other person if necessary to protect the assets of the estate. State law also allows for the executor to purchase a liability insurance policy at the expense of the estate to protect himself against liability issues in connection with the estate.
Pennsylvania law allows an executor to be paid a fair and reasonable fee for administering the estate; this might be established in the will. While state law is not specific about the amount an executor can be paid, three percent is the general rule approved by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Fees of and up to five percent are within the guidelines established by the court. Joint executors generally would be expected to split the fee, although many executors of small estates waive the fee.