Resolving Disagreements Among Joint Executors and Attorneys - Effective Solutions

When you write your will you need to name an executor to administer your estate. When making a Power of Attorney, you’ll name an attorney to help make decisions when you’re no longer able to.

You can choose more than one executor or attorney – but what happens when the people who are supposed to look after you and your bits and bobs don’t agree with each other?

What’s an executor and an attorney?

A will is a legal document outlining your final wishes for your possessions, property, and money. Your executor is the person who ‘collects’ your estate – gaining access to bank accounts and the like. They’ll then distribute your estate to your beneficiaries according to your will. Remember, Power of Attorney isn’t included in your will.

A Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) gives someone the legal right to act on your behalf when you lack the physical or mental capacity to do so. It’s good to put one in place if you’ve been diagnosed with an illness like dementia, you’re going into hospital, or even ‘just in case’. Depending on the type of LPA you get, your attorney can manage your financial or medical affairs – and you can keep control over decisions made through your LPA.

How many executors or attorneys can you have?

You can name up to 4 executors in your will.

You can name up to 5 attorneys in your LPA.

It’s sensible to name at least two executors or attorneys, so that one can act as a substitute if your first choice is unable to act. Before naming multiple attorneys and executors, consider how well they work together. It’s a lot of responsibility to take on, with many people depending on them to act swiftly, decisively, and in your best interests.

When you name more than one attorney or executor, you’ll need to decide how they make decisions. Decisions can be made:
  • Jointly – when decisions are made jointly, it means everyone must agree before action can be taken.
  • Jointly and severally – decisions that are made ‘jointly and severally’ means attorneys and executors can act on their own (severally) or as a group (jointly), as they prefer.

Your will or Power of Attorney can specific that some affairs to be decided jointly, while others are decided jointly and severally.

What happens when joint attorneys or executors disagree?

Sometimes, even with all your careful planning, disagreements can arise. For example, selling a property to a beneficiary rather than on the open market, or undertaking certain medical treatments can cause feuds between warring factions.

So, how can disagreements be avoided?
  • Split responsibilities – your will and your LPA both give you power to determine who takes on which duties. Use this to your advantage.
  • Communication – miscommunication (or wilful misunderstanding) is often to blame. Feuding executors and attorneys should calmly and empathetically discuss controversial decisions.
  • Compromise – decisions regarding a will should be reflect your own. LPA decisions should always place your best interests at heart.

How can disputes be resolved?

The best way to resolve is a dispute is for both parties to sort it between themselves. Time needs to be set aside to see if a mutual agreement can be reached. These meetings can be formal or informal, and both parties should aim to persuade the other.

If this proves impossible, the next step is to reach out to an independent mediator.

There are many legal reasons why a third-party mediator is introduced, for example, during employment or family disputes. If attorneys and executors are struggling to find common ground, a mediator can make sure both sides are heard and even offer tailored advice and solutions.

When even a mediator fails, it’s time to take the dispute to the courts. If you find yourself in this position, always get legal advice.
  • LPA

If acting jointly, and no decisions can be made, a court may decide to cancel the LPA unless there’s a named replacement. If acting jointly and severally, one attorney can choose to stop acting in that capacity without affecting the existing LPA.
  • Wills

If two or more executors disagree, it’s possible to get an executor removed by the court if it best serves the estate (in other words, to make sure your possessions are distributed as you wanted). When no substitute executor has been named, the court also has the legal right to appoint a replacement.

Preparing for the future

Choosing the right executor or attorney is really important, making sure your family are taken care of when you can’t look after them (or yourself) any more.

Whatever the future holds, making a will and LPA sorted will be a weight off your mind. Get it right first time with legal professionals who take the time to understand your needs. It’s easy – just a few questions and you can find and compare solicitors near you for free.