What Happens if Co-Executors to a Will Disagree?
There’s a general rule of thumb that when someone writes a will, they should appoint an odd number of executors (for example – one, three, or five) so that disputes don’t end in a tie. When there are an even number of co-executors, disputes between the co-executors may require probate litigation to resolve them because co-executors cannot act unless a majority agrees, or unless the will explains how tie votes are to be resolved.
Executors are chosen by the testator (the person who prepares a will) when the will is prepared. Many people in Chattanooga and throughout Tennessee choose their spouse and/or their adult children to be the co-executors.
Many of these people don’t want any of their children to feel that they prefer one child over any others, so they appoint all the adult children to be co-executors. A common example that can lead to litigation is when a surviving parent (when one parent predeceased the other) has two children and appoints both children to be the co-executors, and the executors disagree on the terms of the will.
Other reasons for appointing multiple executors are the thought that the more minds tackling a problem the better – or the thought that one co-executor may be better at the family/personal side of managing an estate, while another co-executor may be better at the financial side.
What problems may arise when there are co-executors to an estate?
The executors of the estate have numerous specific duties. These duties include the following:
- Identifying and collecting the estate assets
- Paying the creditors and any administrative fees
- Filing the proper tax returns
- Filing any other probate documents, such as a formal accounting
- Selling assets such as homes, cars, and other assets not being distributed to an heir directly
- Making direct distributions of specific bequests where authorized in the will
- Distributing all the assets of the estate
While many of these duties may seem routine, sometimes co-executors can disagree over the most minor things. Some disputes are really about family dynamics. Other disputes may truly be differences of opinion about what is the best way to handle the estate.
For example, many estates in Tennessee involve the sale of the family home. Disputes can arise about who should be the broker, whether one heir can buy out another heir (and what the terms of the buyout should be), whether the home should be sold as-is or whether repairs should be made so the home complies with local building codes, which offers to buy the home should be accepted or rejected, and many other issues.
Probate litigation if co-executors cannot resolve their disputes
In a best case scenario, the co-executors can work it out amongst themselves, or decide by majority rule. If they cannot, then working with an experienced probate litigation attorney is in everyone’s best interests. You should know that you can seek your own legal counsel, even if there is already an attorney working on the estate. Having your own attorney may prove fruitful if your co-executor gives you reason to believe that are neglecting their duties, or if there is a high degree of conflict between him/her and the beneficiaries. Removing an executor can be a challenge, but we can assist there.
If the dispute cannot be resolved, and both executors remain in their positions, then the dispute can be litigated in probate court. Our Chattanooga trial lawyers work with financial professionals, real estate professionals, and other professionals to support our client’s position. We understand the rules, procedures, and practical issues involved with litigation disputes about the duties of co-executors of an estate. Not only do we handle all applicable paperwork for this, but we also present your case to a probate judge during a hearing. The judge then holds a hearing where both sides can present evidence – with the help of experienced probate litigation lawyers.
Sometimes co-executors can only resolve their disputes through litigation. At Wagner & Wagner Attorneys at Law, our Chattanooga probate litigation lawyers are seasoned trial attorneys. For 75 years, we’ve been strong advocates for estate representatives and beneficiaries. We’ll help explain your rights, explore possible resolutions, and represent your interests before a probate judge.
To discuss your probate estate duties and how to resolve estate disputes when your co-executors have a different opinion about their duties, call us or fill out our contact form to schedule an appointment with a trial lawyer. Our attorneys represent clients in Chattanooga and Cleveland, TN, and the neighboring areas.
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