This Daily Mail article highlights a classic case of lawyers (and accountants) getting removed from a case by the judge because of conflicts of interest, in the Clark case, for each being slated for an $8 million bequest from the estate. This is a classic legal ethics question that confronts estate planning attorneys – can the lawyer accept a gift from the estate of the deceased? Short answer is “no.” If a lawyer drafts estate planning documents for family members, the relative is entitled to independent legal counsel if they so choose and the lawyer may not receive more than an intestate share of the estate (e.g. what they would’ve received if the relative had died without a will). A client can theoretically leave gifts to their lawyer or other professional advisors in a will or trust, but those gifts are automatically suspect and best practice is to only be paid your attorney’s fees and not accept gifts from a client’s estate.
If you need legal counsel with year end estate planning or if you’re an attorney who has a conflict of interest and need independent legal counsel to help, give me a call or send me an email. Merry Christmas and see you in the New Year – 2012, here we come!
(c) 2011, Stephen M. Johnson, Esq.