Why Won’t My Parents’ Lawyer Talk to Me? I’m Just Trying to Help Them!
We understand individuals can sometimes become frustrated when we are ethically prevented from communicating with them. They call and want to ask questions about their parents’ estate planning, or schedule an appointment on behalf of their parents, who have not done any planning and whose health is now failing. The family member wants and expects to participate in the meeting with us, but our lawyers are bound by strict ethical obligations and duties.
One of our first ethical obligations when meeting with a new client is to identify who our client is. The client is the person we are advising. Our professional duties are to the client and not to the family. These duties include confidentiality, loyalty, competence and diligence. In some situations we can represent more than one family member. For example, we often represent married couples who are doing their planning together.
When preparing estate planning or dealing with elder law issues, the client is usually the elder or the individual(s) doing the planning. Our duty of confidentiality is to the client so we cannot share information with family members without the client’s knowing, voluntary, express consent.
We also have an obligation to avoid conflicts of interest. While family members may think the situation is “conflict-free”, a potential conflict arises when working with individuals who have different interests in the matter. For example, the client who has a Will prepared has a different interest than the child who may be a beneficiary of that Will.
So, until we have an opportunity to meet with the client to assess their competency, determine who, if anyone, they want to share information with, and identify any potential conflicts of interest, we are not going to speak with other individuals. You should not hesitate to address any concerns you may have with the attorney with whom you have an appointment.