Joint executors can act independently, provided they have the agreement of other executors to do so. Certain situations require multiple executors at all times.
When you’re appointed as an executor for someone’s will, often it’ll be alongside other executors. Generally, you’ll need to work together and be in agreement in order to manage the estate, but there may be times where it makes sense to act independently. Other times, you may require the support of your other executors.
Read on to learn more about how being a joint executor works, and when you’re able to act independently.
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When you write a will, you should include nominated executors. These are people that you trust to fulfil your will for you. Their responsibilities include finding the will itself, and then making sure all of your accounts with various organisations are closed, your debts are paid off from your estate, and then any remaining assets are distributed to the beneficiaries you’ve nominated in the will.
Being an executor is an important job, so it’s important you pick people that you can trust and that you know will be happy to undertake this work for you.
You’ll want to make sure that, whether you choose a sole executor or multiple, you have certain key attributes covered. You’ll want them to be organised and good with handling companies – there’ll be a lot of accounts that will need to be found and shut down that will be in your name.
You’ll also want someone who has your interests at heart, so that you can trust them to carry out your wishes as requested. Be careful when choosing family though, as they might be mourning your loss – you don’t want to completely burden them when they are upset.
Some people choose to name a mix of family members and professional solicitors. The solicitors will obviously charge a fee, which might be a standalone charge or a percentage of the final estate value, but their expertise in administering probate can help to free up your family to allow them the time they need to properly grieve.
When you add your executors into your will, you’ll need to provide full contact details. It’s a good idea to review your will every few years to ensure these details are up to date.
Many solicitors and professional will writers will recommend you have more than one executor in your will. There are a number of benefits to this. Firstly, you don’t know what’s going to happen between the time you write your will and the time you die. Your executors may pass away before you do. By having multiple executors named, you know that the odds are high that someone will be available to carry out your final wishes.
Also, being an executor is a stressful and emotional job. There’s a lot of work involved, at a time when the person is usually grieving for the fact that you’ve died. Being able to help share that responsibility around means that you aren’t burdening one person with too much.
There are a number of scenarios where a joint executor is able to act alone.
Firstly, it’s important to understand how probate works. When you die, the executor must file a claim in order to be granted the legal power to handle your estate. You can name as many executors in your will as you want, but only four names can be added to an application for a grant of probate. And, only one is needed as a minimum.
So, if you’ve named multiple executors but only one is available to find your will, they might be able to claim probate on their own. They will have to show that they made efforts to contact the other executors but, if they were unsuccessful, then they will have control to distribute your estate as per your will.
Sometimes your other executors will still be present, but they may be happy to let one executor take control. In that instance, they just need to give permission to the executor to act independently. Some people don’t want to be an executor and are often happy to be relieved of their duty.
At other times, though, some executors might want to be involved, and they might have disagreements. In these situations, an executor cannot act independently. They must have the agreement of all the executors in order to progress probate.
If they cannot get an agreement, then they may need to seek legal help. Ultimately, for larger disagreements that cannot be resolved, they might take their case to the Probate Court who would then decide which executor was acting in the best interest of the estate. The other executor(s) may then be removed, allowing the remaining executor to act independently.
There are two other scenarios when it may be impossible for a joint executor to act independently. The first of these is where your will involves a Trust. This is where there may be property or assets that cannot be transferred to the beneficiaries as intended yet, usually due to them being too young. In these circumstances, a trust is created where the executors manage the trust until the beneficiary comes of age.
A trust cannot be held by one executor, so you would need to work alongside another joint executor in this situation. The final scenario is where an executor is simply incapable of taking on the role.
They might be a joint executor, but if they don’t have the time or mental capacity to properly fulfil the role, then they would need the support of a joint executor to lighten the load.
There is an alternative solution where either a joint executor wants to act independently but cannot, or where there is a dispute that cannot be resolved. A third party probate specialist can be appointed by the executors to act in their place.
The specialist will usually be a solicitor, and they’ll take instructions from the executors on how to act. In the case of disagreements, they will act in what they believe is the best way for the benefit of the estate. A third party probate specialist will, of course, charge for their services, but this can be paid as an admin cost out of the estate.
In most cases, a joint executor isn’t able to act independently, where multiple executors are named on the probate application. If you’re having a disagreement with other executors on the best way to manage the estate, you should communicate and try to find a solution that is best for the beneficiaries. Acting independently without the permission of other executors could see you removed from the probate by the courts.
Appointing a third party probate specialist can help to relieve the workload and eliminate some of the disagreements. You might also need legal help if you’re the only executor on the will, but it involves trust, or you don’t feel capable of fulfilling your duties.
If you want to know more about wills and probate, then we can help. We’ve got further guides on contentious probate and will writing, including details on the costs and proceedings should a will be contested.
Here at Money Savings Advice, we have partnered with some of the UK’s leading Contested Probate claim management companies. They have already helped thousands of people make successful probate claims and they can do the same for you.
Choosing an independent claims management company means they won’t proceed with a claim unless they are sure it is in your best interests. They are also regulated by the FCA, which gives you an additional layer of protection.
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