When Co-Administrators Cannot Agree

When Co-Administrators Cannot Agree

Provided By: Alan G. Orlowsky

While it is not commonplace, some individuals choose to nominate two co-executors over their estate in their wills (or the grantor of a trust will appoint two co-trustees). When such an arrangement is utilized, the purpose is generally to ensure that one executor trustee does not take reckless actions that might endanger the estate or the trust’s assets but instead encourage deliberation and contemplation before making decisions that might negatively affect the estate or trust. The language used to create co-executors or co-trustees usually requires the co-executors or co-trustees to agree on certain major decisions, but what happens when they cannot?

Look to the Specific Language Used in the Document 

Before more invasive legal measures are taken, the heirs and beneficiaries (as well as the co-grantors/co-trustees) should look at the specific language and terms used in the will or trust. In some cases, the grantor or testator and/or the attorney representing him or her may have had the foresight to anticipate a situation such as this and included procedures to be employed when the co-grantors or co-trustees cannot agree. If so, the co-grantors/co-trustees should follow these procedures first and document their effort and the outcome before taking any additional measures.

Methods to Resolve a Split Vote 

If the will or trust does not describe how the disagreement is to be resolved, the co-executors/co-trustees will need to determine how the dispute should be resolved and a decision made. Some options include:

  • Submitting the decision to the heirs and beneficiaries for determination by a majority vote. If this option is employed, the co-executors/co-trustees should ensure that each heir and beneficiary is given the information necessary to make an informed decision. Each heir and beneficiary should also be given a fair opportunity to participate in the decision, if he or she so chooses. Co-executors/co-trustees would do well to carefully document in writing each and every step they take in putting the matter to a vote;
  • Including an heir, beneficiary, or neutral third-party in the voting to act as a “tie breaker”. This should be done only after consulting with the heirs and beneficiaries. If the co-executors/co-trustees cannot agree on a third person, the third person may be appointed by the heirs and beneficiaries themselves;
  • Submitting the dispute to a mediator or arbiter to either develop possible resolutions to the impasse or to hear evidence and testimony from each of the co-executors/co-trustees and render a decision resolving the dispute; and
  • Filing a pleading with the court and asking the court to hold a formal evidentiary hearing before making a decision as to how the disagreement should be handled.

When two co-executors/co-trustees cannot agree on how an estate or trust should be administered, the heirs and beneficiaries may suffer the greatest if the disagreement is not resolved swiftly. The Illinois law firm of Orlowsky & Wilson, Ltd. can help heirs, beneficiaries, and executors/trustees who find themselves caught in this particular situation. We will use our legal skills to resolve the impasse as quickly as possible so as to minimize any disruption to the lives and affairs of the heirs and beneficiaries. We serve clients in Highland Park, Evanston, Glenview, Glencoe, Northbrook, and Skokie. Call our office at (847) 325-5559 or contact us online for assistance.


Updated as of July 2019
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