Disputes Between the Executors of a Will

It’s not uncommon for testators to appoint more than one individual to act as the executor/s of their will. While this can ease the responsibility and pressure that each executor takes on, it can also be the cause for rising tensions and disputes between those involved.

The passing of a loved one can be an emotionally distressing time for all of those involved and, if executors have pre-existing conflicts, these are often amplified under such stressful conditions. While the testator may sincerely hope those involved either resolve their issues, at least for the duration of the estate’s administration, this is not always the case. There’s no guarantee that individuals will be united in grief and, inevitably, disagreements sometimes surface.

Even in instances where executors were previously on good terms, strong conflicting opinions can fracture relationships. When writing their will, this is why it’s crucial the testator carefully considers whom they appoint to act as their executor/s, as well as the likelihood of disputes arising.

Is there a practical way such unfavourable circumstances could be avoided, is there anything that can be done beforehand to lower tensions? By forecasting where exactly conflicts may foster, you can reduce the chances of a heated dispute harming relationships and delaying the execution of your testamentary wishes.

The Reasoning Behind Appointing Multiple Executors

Often, multiple executors will be appointed in cases where the testator has adult children, giving each of them the opportunity to have a direct input during the estate’s administration. Many parents see this as the fairest approach and, in taking such action, aim to avoid disputes in what can be a particularly difficult time.

When managing an estate, an executor has various duties and responsibilities, which include paying debts, collecting assets and distributing the estate. These tasks can be time-consuming and can place significant pressure and stress on the executor, especially during such an emotional time. Thus, testator’s will often assign more than one executor to take one this role, allowing them to share responsibility for managing the estate.

In addition to this, if the testator is concerned that a certain individual may act unfavourably, appointing another executor can be an effective safety measure.

What are the Common Causes of Executor Conflicts?

There are various circumstances where the executors of a will may disagree with one another, causing a dispute to arise.

Conflicts between executors may result from any of the following:

  • Their individual interpretation of the will;
  • Whether to appoint a solicitor and/or accountant and who they ought to be;
  • The true value of estate assets and how they should be administered;
  • If an executor pursues reimbursement for ‘legitimate’ expenses they incurred while managing the estate;
  • Conflicts of interests whereby an individual is both an executor and a beneficiary.

Resolving conflicts of this nature can place an immense strain on all of those involved and, beyond the inherent stress of such circumstances, there are numerous other implications. Executors may enter into expensive court proceedings and may be found personally liable for costs they encounter. The estate’s value has the potential to be greatly diminished and, in some cases, beneficiaries are forced to wait an extended period of time before receiving their inheritance.

How Can You Avoid Executor Conflicts?

While writing your will and deciding who to appoint as executor, if you want to avoid conflict, it’s important to think beyond purely who you’d like to act as the executors.

By taking into account how these individuals will interact, you can lower the chance of conflicts arising. Ultimately, if executors are willing to cooperate with one another, it’s far more likely your testamentary wishes will be carried out promptly and without the added stress of a dispute.

Before assigning executors to distribute your estate, consider the following:

  • How complex is your estate?
  • Do your executors have pre-existing tension?
  • With existing relationships in mind, is it likely your beneficiaries and executors will have disagreements?
  • If it’s likely that beneficiaries will engage in conflict, do you have confidence in your executor’s ability to resolve or contain the dispute?
  • Do your proposed executors have specialised skill sets or traits that could contribute positively to the ease of your estate’s administration?
  • If an eligible person challenges or contests your will, how would you expect the assigned executors to react?

While disputes between executors are undesirable, in some cases, they’re necessary for helping all of those involved reach a fair outcome. For more information or if you’re considering pursuing a will dispute, get in touch with our team of experienced estate lawyers.