One of the main reasons for naming more than one executor is in case someone is unable or unwilling to act when the time arises. If a single executor is named in a Will, there is a risk that they may die first, or over time may lose mental capacity. In that event, it would leave the estate without a named executor.
If an estate does have only one executor, the administration will usually be possible in the ordinary way.
If the winding-up is simple, for example with everything left to the remaining spouse, then a single executor will be able to deal with matters fairly easily.
With a more complicated estate however, it can be beneficial to have more than one executor. The job of administration can be long and complex, involving the collecting in and valuation of assets, arranging for clearance and sale of any property, calculation and payment of Inheritance Tax, preparation of detailed estate accounts and distribution of the estate to beneficiaries.
It can be helpful for executors to share the burden, particularly if the winding-up takes many months and involves a large amount of correspondence. It can also be good to involve more than one family member to help avoid disagreements and distrust arising at what will be a difficult time.
If the Will creates a trust, then a sole executor is advised to take legal advice in respect of the appointment of trustees. It is always recommended that a second executor be appointed in the case of a more complicated estate.
If the Will appoints executors to act together, then they are known as joint executors. It will not then be possible for a joint executor to act alone in the estate administration unless the other executor(s) give their agreement.
If the other executor(s) are happy for one person to act solely, then they can either be served with a Notice of Power Reserved, meaning they can take up the position later on, should they choose to, or they can renounce their powers completely. It is advisable for executors to take legal advice before stepping aside.
When having your Will drawn up, you should ideally select two executors who you believe will be able to do a good job in estate administration. If you are unable to find suitable candidates, it is possible to appoint a professional executor to act.