Most people will have a single primary executor and 1 or 2 alternate executors. A primary executor is most commonly a spouse or partner. Someone with minor children may pick a sibling, parent, or even a personal friend, as an alternate executor. A person with adult children will likely pick one or more of those adult children as alternate executors.

Sometimes a person doing a will feels compelled to list several people as executors. The reasons vary. For one person, there may be the sense that being named an executor is a great honour, and that failing to name someone as an executor (even if only as the 19th choice) is a major slap in the face. For another person, there may be the concern that he or she, along with all the executors already listed, may die in a horrific accident or perhaps succumb to a zombie apocalypse. If just one more person is named, that will reduce the likelihood that no one will be around to act as executor.

While it may be an honour to be named as an executor, this is significantly outweighed by the fact that being called upon to act as an executor is a big job and typically a colossal nuisance. In most cases, you want to avoid naming someone as an executor unless that person stands to substantially benefit from the will. An exception exists when you have young children and you appoint someone like a sibling to act as the alternate executor. In that case, the sibling will be willing to act out of a sense of love and family loyalty. In most cases, a person not otherwise benefitting from your estate would be wise to run as fast as he or she can from the prospect of acting as your executor.

As for the person who feels compelled to pick 21 people because 20 might just not be enough, I would point out the following. Unless these people are all a part of your Navy Seal platoon and you’re being sent on a suicide mission in the heart of enemy territory, there’s a good chance that, by picking 2 or 3 people your age or younger, you’ll have at least one person alive to act as your executor. If these people start dying off, you can always rewrite your will at that time. If bad things happen and all of your executors have died, a surviving family member or friend can bring a court application to act as your executor if you have already passed away.

Given the above, I’d typically limit the number of executors (primary and alternate) to 2 or 3. In some cases, there may be good reason to increase the number, but 2 is usually a safe, and 3 is super safe.