Appointing multiple trustees can add up to trouble

One estate trustee is quite enough for testators drafting a will.

I’ve written before about the importance of picking the right person to administer your estate, and this is one area where there is no strength in numbers.

Considering what a tough job the estate trustee has, I can understand why an individual may be tempted to pick a team of people to share the load, particularly when the testator has more than one child.

However, it rarely works out as intended, since each jointly-appointed trustee brings their own biases and preferences to the job, increasing the chance of a clash. In fact, siblings may find long-forgotten resentments stirred up and deepened when they’re forced to work together following the passing of a parent, needlessly adding bitterness and delay to an already difficult process.

In my experience, the best course of action is to select one person as estate trustee, with an alternate choice in case they’re unable to take on the mantle. If choosing one family member over another to administer your estate is likely to cause problems, then you might consider looking further afield – to a trusted friend or even a corporate trustee.

If you absolutely have to choose more than one executor, then I’d suggest making it an odd number, so that you can include a “majority rules” clause to break any deadlock.

But even that is no guarantee that things will run smoothly, as demonstrated by a Superior Court case involving three siblings who ran into trouble administering their mother’s modest estate.

According to the ruling, one brother jointly appointed as trustee held up proceedings by blocking the distribution of funds from a property sale and objecting to the payment of an estate tax bill.

His other siblings were then forced to go to court to have him removed from the position. A judge agreed with them that the brother’s “inexplicable lack of cooperation” required his removal, to allow the rest of the estate administration to “be completed in a timely fashion.”

Despite the result, the victory likely rang hollow for the siblings of the obstructive brother, since the cost of the legal battle probably ate into the value of the estate and their individual inheritances.

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