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The passing of a loved one is a deeply emotional time. Yet, amid grief, important legal and financial matters often require urgent attention. In Ontario, the person named in a will as the “estate trustee” (also referred to as a “personal representative” or “executor”) plays a pivotal role in administering the deceased’s estate and ensuring these matters are handled in an appropriate and timely fashion. When preparing a will, testators may consider appointing a sole estate trustee, while others may contemplate appointing two or more individuals to act as co-executors in an effort to ensure fairness and disburse the workload.

This blog will explore the key considerations involved when deciding who to appoint as your estate trustee(s) and will outline the benefits and drawbacks of appointing a single executor versus multiple executors. It will also introduce the concept of alternate executors and will offer key considerations for those considering preparing or revising their estate plan.

The Key Role of an Executor

An estate executor acts as a fiduciary and is responsible for carrying out the wishes outlined in the deceased’s will. Their duties encompass a vast array of tasks, including, but not limited to:

  • Locating and securing the deceased’s assets (property, investments, bank accounts);
  • Settling outstanding debts and liabilities;
  • Filing the necessary probate documents with the court;
  • Managing and distributing the estate’s assets according to the will; and
  • Preparing tax returns for the deceased and the estate.

The executor’s role is crucial in ensuring a smooth and efficient estate administration process that respects the deceased’s intentions. As such, choosing the right individual(s) for this responsibility deserves careful consideration.

The Single Executor: A Streamlined Approach

Appointing a single executor is often a common approach for individuals preparing their will, as they can generally identify an individual they trust sufficiently to carry out the tasks and responsibilities required of an estate trustee.

Advantages of a Single Executor

Appointing a single executor offers several advantages, such as:

  • Efficiency: With only one person in charge, decision-making and communication can be streamlined. This can expedite the settling of the estate, particularly if the estate is straightforward.
  • Clarity: Having a single point of contact can be advantageous for beneficiaries and professionals involved in the estate administration process.
  • Reduced Conflict: With fewer parties involved, the risk of disagreements or personality clashes is minimized. Further, decisions can be made quickly without other individuals to consult with, allowing for generally efficient administration.

Disadvantages of a Single Executor

However, there are also potential drawbacks to consider when estate administration is in the hands of a single person, such as:

  • Burdensomeness: An executor’s responsibilities can be overwhelming, especially for complex estates. A single executor might struggle to manage the workload effectively while navigating emotions and personal matters.
  • Emergencies: If the single executor becomes incapacitated, unavailable, or renounces their role, the administration process can be stalled. The court may need to appoint an administrator, leading to delays and additional expense.
  • Lack of Expertise: The ideal executor may not possess the necessary skills and knowledge to handle all aspects of estate administration, such as complex tax issues or investments. While an estate trustee must act in the estate’s best interests and adhere to the deceased’s wishes, some matters may not be handled adequately, leading to further disputes amongst interested parties.

Appointing Alternate Executors

If you wish for your estate to benefit from the simplicity of one executor, but want to mitigate the chances of delayed administration or conflict, you may choose to appoint an alternate executor. This allows you to designate a primary executor and a secondary executor (or “successor”) in your will. Some individuals may even choose to appoint two alternate executors depending on their circumstances.

The alternate executor will only take over the executor duties if your first choice dies, is unable to act as executor, or decides he or she does not wish to act as the executor. Moreover, the primary executor is not obligated to consult with the alternate executor if they are willing and able to act as estate trustee. If the primary executor becomes incapable or unwilling to continue, the successor automatically takes over seamlessly. This eliminates the need for court intervention to appoint an administrator, saving time and potential legal fees.

The Power of Many: Multiple Executors

In some situations, individuals may choose to appoint two or more individuals to act as co-executors of their estate.

Advantages of Multiple Executors

In some cases, appointing multiple executors might be beneficial for:

  • Complex Estates: For intricate estates with diverse assets or family dynamics, multiple executors can share the workload and draw upon their combined knowledge and skill sets to their advantage when making decisions about particular assets or issues.
  • Geographical Dispersion: If beneficiaries or assets are located in different geographical locations, whether across the province, the country, or the world, having co-executors can ensure representation and oversight in each area.
  • Family Harmony: In complex family situations, appointing multiple executors from different family branches can promote fairness and transparency.

Disadvantages of Multiple Executors

However, appointing multiple executors also possesses several drawbacks, such as:

  • Potential for Disagreements: With multiple individuals making decisions and unanimous consent required, disagreements can arise, leading to delays and frustration. To mitigate this, a will may clearly outline a dispute resolution process to be employed in the event of an impasse.
  • Communication Challenges: Efficient communication and collaboration are essential for multiple executors. If communication breaks down, it can hinder the administration process. This can be particularly common in cases of complex family dynamics.
  • Stalled Administration: In a co-executor situation, one executor may refuse to assist with the workload or may be absent from communications, which can leave the individual(s) trying to get things done frustrated with the lack of necessary participation of the executor who is refusing to act.

Final Thoughts on Executor Appointments

There are several key considerations for any individual to weigh when deciding who to appoint as their estate executor(s). The ideal approach to appointing executors will depend on your specific circumstances. Ultimately, there are several key factors to contemplate, including the complexity of your estate, family dynamics, succession planning, and the availability and willingness of your chosen executor(s) to act.

For these reasons, it is crucial to work with an experienced estate planning lawyer who can help you identify possible estate planning strategies tailored to your personal circumstances. A skilled lawyer will help you identify your options and can provide practical advice to help you mitigate the risk of disputes and delays during estate administration.

Contact the Wills and Estates Lawyers at Bader Law for Advice on Estate Planning

At Bader Law, our team of estate planning and administration lawyers help clients draft and revise their comprehensive estate plans. Our wills and estates team will help you navigate the complexities of estate planning and will help you prepare a will that accurately captures your final wishes. We help clients in Mississauga, Oakville and across Ontario with will preparation and estate administration. To schedule a confidential consultation with one of our estate planning and administration lawyers, contact us online or reach out to us by phone at (289) 652-9092.