Same Person, Different Interests

June 25, 2008 Hull & Hull LLP Executors and Trustees Tags: , , , , , 0 Comments

A person with more than one set of distinct interests or roles in the same estate may have a conflict of interest.  This can create all sorts of problems and issues in an estate administration and is a driving concept in much estate litigation.

Say Joe Smith is the executor of an estate but also received gifts from his mother the testator during her lifetime.  One of these gifts, say, came in the form of a transfer of a bank account into joint ownership between the two of them. 

Wearing his executor’s hat (to use some traditional vernacular), Joe may have a duty to determine whether the bank account transfer was not a gift at all and actually subject to a resulting trust in which case the estate might have a claim to the asset.  Joe may need to do so because, as executor, his duty is to identify estate assets and bring them into the estate. 

However, wearing his hat as a recipient of the bank account, Joe is unlikely to want to give the bank account back to the estate. 

In short, Joe may have a conflict of interest.

In such circumstances, Joe may need two lawyers, one to advise him as estate trustee, the other to protect him personally.  Sometimes an executor’s conflict is such that he cannot continue to act as estate trustee. 

While this example may be simple enough, there is a tremendous range of conflicts that can creep into estate matters.

Thanks for reading.

Sean Graham

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