Who should be the will executor for my mom?

A fellow caregiver asked...

My mother has appointed my two sisters and me as will executor to her estate. Her attorney strongly advised that she should only have one executor of will and that having all three could cause problems. She is worried she would hurt someone's feelings if she had to pick only one of us. I suggested she talk to her attorney and find a solution, representative from his office or her bank? I'm not sure of the will executor's responsibilities. My two sisters are out of the state most of the year and would not be available for the sale of the house, etc.

Expert Answer

Barbara Repa, a Caring.com senior editor, is an attorney, a journalist specializing in aging issues, and the author of Your Rights in the Workplace (Nolo), now in its 10th edition.

Your mom is wrestling with a common problem. Just as she didn’t want to show favoritism among her daughters during her lifetime by consistently giving one of you the biggest piece of pie or the latest curfew, she wants you to feel equal—or at least equalish—treatment coming from her after her death.

The attorney who wrote up your mom’s will is just giving out a common warning learned in law school based on the fact that after your mom’s death, all three of you executors would have to agree on every decision concerning distributing her estate. And to add another potential crimp, out of state executors in some states have to post bond before they’re allowed to serve.

That warned and written, however, your mom is still free to appoint all three of you jointly if that is her true wish.

There are a number of possible actions to take:

  • Leave the will as is, and assure your mom that the three of you will cooperate in your duties when the time requires it. While it’s not possible to guarantee this stellar behavior, of course—and the prospect of property can cause even the coziest of siblings to turn on one another—many family members are able to do just this.
  • Ask your mom to consider dividing up her estate planning duties—perhaps appointing one of you as executor of her will, another as the agent in her power of attorney for healthcare, another as her agent in a power of attorney for finances.
  • Your mom could also consider appointing a third person—a family friend or an institutional party as you suggest—to serve as the executor, removing the issue from the siblings’ plates.