I have an acquaintance who was named as the co-executor of his mothers will along with his brother (they are the only 2 children and both are beneficiaries). My acquaintance lives in New Jersey and his brother lives in Florida. Their mother lived in New Jersey and her will is going to be probated in Jersey. He wanted to know if there would be any problems with being co-executors. Having been through almost the same situation (I live in Jersey and my brother is in Philadelphia), I had some first hand experience.
The first issue is logistical. When there are co-executors, both have to sign (legally) on any transfer of funds, closing of accounts, sale of property (car, house, furniture, etc…). This is because the Letters Testamentary have both names so in order for the bank (for example) to close an account, both names need to be on the banks “close account” form and both typically need to have it notarized. So the form has to go back and forth between New Jersey and Florida creating a time gap, the Jersey brother has to get all the paperwork, put in the mail, track it, etc… This all needs to be done multiple times; when the car is sold, the title needs to be signed by both, when the house goes on the market, the listing agreement needs both names, when the stocks need to be transferred, the same. So it gets to be a bit tedious. It would make things easier if the brother who lives in Florida declined to serve as co-executor and allow the Jersey brother to close out the estate.
There could be a couple of problems with this approach however:
1-The Florida brother may feel that if he declines, the brother in New Jersey could hide bank accounts. The recourse for the Florida brother is to file a notice with the probate court (most states have this option open) and the probate court may compel a full accounting.
2-The Florida brother may think that the Jersey brother didn’t get enough for the house or the furniture or the car when selling those items. The recourse here is that the Florida brother doesn’t sign off on the final accounting until they negotiate something that they both feel is equitable. The test is reasonable however – if the Jersey brother administering the estate does what a reasonable person would do, it’s pretty much considered fair. For example, let’s say the book value of the car is $10,000. The Jersey brother takes $9,500 for it. That would be considered reasonable because book value is not an exact number, the car may have slightly different options, a quick sale is more desirable than letting the car sit, etc… So the $9,500 price most likely would be viewed as reasonable. If, however, the car is sold for $1,500 it would most likely be viewed as unreasonable. The Florida brother has a right to complain and have the difference made up out of the estate proceeds due to the Jersey brother. As you can see, it’s not an exact science.
3-The Jersey brother is doing the bulk of the work in closing the estate and may feel that he is due some compensation for it. There are fee’s associated with closing estates and the Jersey brother may take the fee. That may not sit well with the Florida brother because those monies come out of his share of the estate.
The net is - there are pros and cons to both sides. If the beneficiaries get along and trust each other, they can work out who does what – either both or one of them. The key to smoothly closing the estate is frequent and concise communication. When all the beneficiaries are up to date on what it happening, it makes it easier to smooth out the rough spots and come to consensus on those sticky items.