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This is the personal blog of Sterling Olander, a Certified Public Accountant and Utah-licensed attorney. For over nine years, I have assisted clients with estate planning and administration, tax mitigation, tax controversies, small business planning, asset protection, and nonprofit law.

I write about any legal, tax, or technological information that I find interesting or useful in serving my clients. All ideas expressed herein are my own and don't constitute legal or tax advice.

Co-Fiduciaries in Probate and Planning

The terms of fundamental estate planning documents always include designating a fiduciary in each such document. Specifically, a last will will designate a personal representative of the estate, a power of attorney and health care directive will designate an agent to make decisions during life, and a trust agreement will designate a successor trustee. If an individual does not have a power of attorney or health care directive, a guardianship and conservatorship will sometimes be required, wherein the court will appoint a guardian and/or conservator.

There are obvious benefits in designating multiple co-fiduciaries in any of these situations as opposed to a single fiduciary. Co-fiduciaries can provide a check and a balance on each other and share the burdens of serving in the role. The primary downside is more complexity in carrying out the co-fiduciaries' duties because often multiple fiduciaries will need to act together in signing documents or taking other action.

The terms of the relevant governance document must always specify whether co-fiduciaries can act independently or if they must act together. State law provides default answers in certain circumstances, but it is not always clear or predictable what the default rule is. Utah Code 75-3-716 states that co-personal representatives of an estate generally act by majority vote unless the will provides otherwise, and Utah Code 75-7-703 addresses co-trustees and by default would require the action of both. Utah Code 75-2a-108 also provides for majority vote in the health-care decision-making context.

However, Utah Code 75-9-111 has the opposite default in the case of co-agents under a power of attorney, meaning that each can act independently unless the governing document provides otherwise. The comments to the Uniform Probate Code indicate that some questions as to whether co-fiduciaries must act together were deliberately left to state law, and in Utah anyway, it is unclear what the default rule is in the case of co-guardians and co-conservators. Best practices clearly require the governing document or court order to specify whether co-fiduciaries can act independently or whether they must act together.