Be wary of ‘conflicts of interest’

One situation to watch out for is where two family members approach the same lawyer. Cordiality between the clients can blind the lawyer to the fact that their interests conflict. 

In one of our cases a husband and wife went to the same lawyer. This wasn’t a problem in itself but the wife was pressuring her husband to disinherit his children. The lawyer went along with this. When the husband died and the children discovered what had happened, they were very angry. 

In another case, a son persuaded his elderly father to change lawyers. The new lawyer was a close friend of the son. Soon afterwards the bulk of the father’s assets were transferred to companies controlled by the son. This should have immediately set off alarm bells. People had been subtly pressured into transferring property to relatives. The lawyer may not have witnessed the pressure being applied, but the transaction itself suggested the presence of undue influence.  

Sometimes even Lawyers fail to recognise a conflict of interest. Later, when the conflict is pointed out, they may become indignant and refuse to step aside. Their hostility can affect their ability to be impartial, leaving beneficiaries frustrated and annoyed. Beneficiaries frequently complain that lawyers have dealt with them in a high-handed manner or have treated them more as an enemy than a person with a legitimate interest. Sometimes a lawyer digging in and refusing to budge is the biggest obstacle to a fair solution!

To challenge lawyers on legal grounds is to confront them on their own turf. Law is the province of the lawyer. They know the lie of the land and will respond fiercely to any suggestion that they have violated their professional and ethical duties. If you are going to take on a lawyer, you must be thorough, well-researched and very specific about your grounds. Faced with a credible possibility of legal action, however, a lawyer will often step back. Our clients have told us “there is nothing better than seeing someone who has been lofty and dismissive suddenly cooperating!”

Relationship PropertyTrusts And Asset LitigationWills Estate Administration

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