Sometimes in cases of estate administration, the person named as administrator of the estate will retain a lawyer to assist him or her with the process, only to learn later that there is a potential conflict of interest involved.
A British Columbia estate administration lawyer who has a busy practice and full roster of present and former clients may not immediately realise that a conflict exists. The lawyer should be meticulous in obtaining the relevant facts of the estate administration and the names of all potential beneficiaries so as to be able to render a true opinion of the matter’s legal merits and likely results for the client. Sweeping assurances should raise red flags for the client, as unscrupulous lawyers who are dependent on these statements for their continued employment should be avoided at all costs.
Additionally, it must be noted that lawyers retained by personal representatives in estate administration cases represent that client and not the estate itself. As estates are not legal entities, the professional loyalties must lie with the client.
Beneficiaries must be advised to retain their own counsel when conflicts in the administration of the estate crop up.
Often the personal representative and beneficiaries attend the lawyer’s meeting en mass, and this can cause potential problems if the beneficiaries leave the lawyer’s office feeling as though they are also being represented by the same lawyer.
The personal representative is the one who directs the lawyer and to whom the lawyer must report. Any communication from the lawyer to the beneficiaries is done at the behest of the personal representative of the estate. Sometimes a lawyer can head off potential conflicts by advising the personal representative to keep beneficiaries abreast of all major decisions regarding the estate.
Source: Continuing Legal Education Society of British Columbia, “Professional Conflicts — Advising Personal Representatives on Their Duties and Interests as Beneficiaries,” Kim A. Karras, accessed Feb. 05, 2016