Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen

There are a lot of different phrases and slogans to describe a situation where you have too many people in charge. Democracy may be preferable in some situations, but your estate plan is often not one of those situations. People often tell me they want to be fair so they want to name all their children as executors, trustees or powers of attorney at their death or incapacity. They feel that naming everyone will insure that things go smoothly and that there is no tension among the siblings that one child was treated preferentially. In fact, naming multiple children does not relieve tension or promote harmony…it creates tension, confusion and sometimes complete chaos.

As I frequently tell the disgruntled sibling who is upset that his or her brother or sister was named as trustee or executor, serving in these roles is a job, not a privilege. As a beneficiary, you get to sit back, let someone else do the work and then collect the proceeds. As an executor or trustee, you have to do all the work, deal with the disgruntled beneficiaries and then receive, in many cases, the same proceeds as the person who got all the benefits without any of the work.

The decision as to who will serve in these important roles is a big decision and should not be taken lightly. But in many cases, less is more. One person or entity is often the best choice. Two can insure that checks and balances are in place in case one person is out of line. More than two guarantees administrative headaches, fighting and taking sides. The administrative process of probate and trust administration is challenging enough because it usually involves families and money, two very emotionally-charged topics. When you add the grief from the loss of a loved one, too many cooks in the kitchen adds insult to injury. Instead of looking at what will be viewed as the most fair, consider who is the best-suited for the task and the most able to navigate family issues and money. In so doing, the result is often more fair for everyone. Unfortunately, fair or not, too many cooks in the kitchen rarely leads to a desirable result.

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