It’s common to appoint more than one executor of a will. The people who have been appointed are jointly responsible for carrying out the duties of an executor, such as applying for probate and ensuring that the wishes of the will’s creator are fulfilled. However, what happens if executors disagree?

If you’re concerned about an apparent attempt to change a will, you may be interested in our guide to whether executors can change a will after death.

 

Do all executors need to apply for probate?

Yes, if they want to act as an executor.

The probate application form PA1P gives four acceptable reasons for a living executor not to apply for probate:

 

  1. Power reserved: they have chosen not to apply, but reserve the right to do so later.
  2. Renunciation: they have chosen not to apply, and give up all rights to apply.
  3. Power of attorney: they are appointing another person to act on their behalf.
  4. They lack capacity to act as executor

 

In other words, executors can opt not to apply for probate if they cannot or do not want to carry out the duties of an executor. If you do not apply for probate, you cannot be involved in administering the estate.

If you’re planning to step down as executor rather than applying for probate, we have a guide to how to resign as an executor.

An executor can’t take away the power of other executors by applying for probate without their knowledge. If you’re an executor applying for probate, you must tell all the other joint executors named in the will, in writing, that you’re applying, and give them the opportunity to apply with you.

 

How many executors can you have for a will?

 

Up to four people can apply for probate together, meaning it’s possible to have up to four joint executors.

Naming many executors may mean there are more opportunities for points where the executors of the will disagree. However, naming only one executor is risky, as they may die, lose capacity or be unwilling to act as executor by the time the will comes into effect.

It’s possible to appoint substitute executors, rather than joint executors. For example, you could appoint one person to act as your executor and two others to take their place if necessary, rather than three joint executors.

 

Can joint executors act independently?

 

No. Joint executors of a will must act together.

It’s common for one executor to take the lead on decision-making, but the other executors must agree to those decisions before they can be carried out, as all executors will need to sign documents relating to the distribution of assets.

Can a co-executor act alone under any circumstances? Only if the other executors agree to step down from their roles. If you’re dealing with joint executors’ disputes, of course, the other executors may not be willing to resign.

 

What to do when executors disagree

It’s best to resolve conflicts between joint executors as quickly and peacefully as possible, as they can be stressful for both the executors and the beneficiaries.

If a disagreement arises, it’s worth recalling the two most central duties of an executor: to carry out the wishes of the person who wrote the will, and to act in the best interests of the beneficiaries. With these in mind, the best course of action may become clear.

If you disagree with another executor, and you believe their intentions are good, take the time to talk through the disagreement together. Put forward your case for which course of action is best for the beneficiaries and why, and be prepared to listen to the other side. You may also find it helpful to ask the beneficiaries for their opinion.

If disagreements can’t be resolved, it’s possible to apply to probate court to have an executor removed. However, this is a last resort for serious cases: for example, if an executor is stealing from or seriously mismanaging the estate. In the case of a simple disagreement that could be resolved through discussion, the court is unlikely to take action.

When joint executors disagree, they may find it easiest to leave the administration of the estate in the hands of a professional third party. If this would help in your situation, we offer a fixed-fee probate and estate administration service.

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