The Potential Risks Of A Probate Estate With Multiple Personal Representatives
The personal representative (or executor) is the person responsible for administering a Florida probate estate. When the deceased left a will, that document will typically nominate someone to serve as personal representative, often a spouse, adult child, or other close relative or friend. In most cases, there is only one person named to serve as personal representative. But what if there are multiple people?
Legally speaking, there is nothing to prevent a decedent from nominating two or more persons to serve as “joint personal representatives.” Such appointments often occur when a decedent has no surviving spouse but multiple children. Many parents are reluctant to “favor” one child over the other when it comes to administering their estate. And in theory, if the children get along well, they should be able to jointly administer the estate without incident.
But in the real world, we know that is not always the case. So what happens when joint personal representatives have a disagreement? Who decides what will happen with the estate? Under Florida law, for any will executed after October 1987, when there are joint personal representatives, a majority “is required on all acts connected with the administration and distribution of the estate.” So for example, if you have three co-personal representatives, any two of them can legally act on behalf of the estate.
The law further states that when a co-personal representative “dissents” or does not participate in a particular decision made by the majority, they are not legally responsible for any consequences of that action. In other words, if a beneficiary of the estate wants to sue the estate for a breach of fiduciary duty, only those co-personal representatives who participated in or supported the act leading to the breach can be held personally responsible.
What Happens If There Is a Tie?
Now, you might wonder what would happen if there were an even number of joint personal representatives and they deadlock. Who breaks the tie? Unless the decedent’s will left clear instructions on this point, if the co-personal representatives are unable to agree on a course of action they may need to go before a judge to resolve the disagreement.
This is why people making a will should always think carefully before appointing multiple personal representatives. If the goal is simply to avoid an appearance of favoring one child over another, a better course may be to name a single outside person–such as an attorney or professional fiduciary–to serve as personal representative. And if the testator does decide they want more than one personal representative, they should include some sort of tie-breaking procedure in the will to prevent litigation over potential deadlocks.
If you are involved in any sort of probate administration dispute and need legal advice on how to proceed, your first call should be to a qualified Pompano Beach estate and trust litigation attorney. Contact attorney Mark R. Manceri today to schedule a consultation.