What are joint executors?

How does it work with two executors?

An executor in Canada takes care of closing someone’s estate when they pass away, but what happens when there is more than one executor named in the will?

This is called having joint executorsand it usually happens when a parent chooses more than one child to take on the role.

Why would you have more than one executor of a will? Doesn’t that make it more complicated?

Canadians are worried being an executor is too much work for just one person. Debts, beneficiaries, taxes, pet care, real estate, and funeral arrangements are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to executor duties.

Consider this before appointing joint executors…

Parents aren’t just trying to make the job easier for their joint executors, they’re also trying to keep things fair.

It’s understandable that people want all of their children to be equally involved in the decision-making process, but there are a few issues that come along with naming multiple executors:

  • The estate may take longer to close if your executors have issues agreeing on the will interpretation.
  • If one executor lives out-of-town, a majority of the tasks may fall to the other executor.
  • If you do not make all of your children your executors you could be causing resentment (like if you choose two of your three children.)
  • Your joint executors might have a strained or non-existent relationship, making communication very difficult.
  • One executor could be too busy or irresponsible for their duties, leaving a bulk of the work to one person anyway.

You should speak to your legal professional when creating your will about joint executors and the possibility of including a “majority rule” clause.

That being said, having joint executors is still a popular choice and does work out well for many Canadians who know their executors are cooperative and up to the task.

“Whether you decide to appoint one, two, or more executors, here’s some advice: share the contents of your Will with your executors while you’re still alive. It will give them an opportunity to ask questions, get clarification or make suggestions if the Will overlooks some material matter. Once you’re gone, no one can ask you anything….why leave your family wondering, maybe for the rest of their lives, why you did or didn’t do this or that? It’s just good planning to eliminate surprises. In our experience, surprises are rarely a good thing in estate matters.”

Scot Dalton, CEO ERAssure
can there be more than on executor of an estate?

Can joint executors act independently?

No. Joint executors need to agree unanimously on estate decisions, which is the main reason having multiple people involved can slow down the administration process. One executor cannot overrule the other, and often disputes arise.

“Co-Executors are supposed to make decisions jointly regarding the Estate assets. Neither has the legal right to act alone.”

Vanessa Dedominicis, Pushor Mitchell LLP

In very rare cases executors can be named “joint and severally”, which allows them to make decisions without unanimous decision. This method is fraught with issues, which is why it’s rarely used.

Do both executors need to sign?

Yes, all executors should sign any documents related to the estate administration. Things like the probate application, property deeds, estate bank accounts, and tax returns always need all signatures.

The estate bank account should be set up to require the signature of all executors for cheques and withdrawals, too. In fact, if there are joint executors they usually will not let you set up the account without it.

How many executors can you have on a will?

You can appoint more than two people to be joint executors, but it is not recommended and rarely done. Imagine needing the signature of five different brothers and sisters for every single document, but they live scattered across Canada?

Typically three executors are only appointed to very large estates, like when the deceased owned a large business, several properties, and multiple investments.

If you don’t like the idea of joint executors, you can also name an alternate executor as a backup incase your first-choice backs down or as a show of trust to prevent someone feeling slighted.

Free Estate Planning Resources

Need a little help? Our free estate planning resources can guide you through your executor tasks, close the gaps in your will and estate plan, and prepare your executors for their future role.