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Does a relationship exist between an estate attorney and the estate’s beneficiaries?

On Behalf of | Dec 1, 2023 | Estate Planning

In Pennsylvania, the attorney of any given estate is hired by the personal representative (who was hired by the estate owner) and not by the estate’s beneficiaries. Because there is no attorney-client relationship between the attorney and the beneficiaries, many people believe that the attorney owes nothing to the beneficiaries — that the beneficiaries are third parties.

However, if the attorney does not act in the best interests of the beneficiaries regarding matters concerning the estate, the attorney may, in fact, be held liable. Evaluating and determining the liability should really be considered on a case-by-case basis.

What happens if an estate attorney is considered liable?

Traditionally, the estate attorney had a relationship only with the personal representative. The personal representative was always the one to hire the estate attorney to help the representative to successfully administer the estate correctly and on time. Additionally, the personal representative had a direct relationship with the beneficiaries that were appointed by the owner of the estate.

Under that way of looking at the relationship, if the attorney did something that was not good for the beneficiaries, that attorney was not liable. However, that approach has evolved and now, courts have found that estate attorneys do have a legal relationship with the beneficiaries.

If the estate attorney has a relationship to the beneficiary and the attorney acts in a way that is not beneficial to the beneficiary, the attorney could be held liable for damages they cause.

The importance of estate planning

Having an estate plan is very important for everyone. For some people, their estate plan will be relatively simple and for others, it will be more complicated. One thing that is essential to understand is that a will is an important document to have in your estate plan. If you pass away and don’t have a will, your estate (and all of the assets in it) will be handled at the discretion of the state instead of according to your wishes.

Having the right estate plan for your particular situation means that everything will be executed according to what you wish. It will allow you to take care of your responsibilities, obligations and to distribute your assets in the proper way and in a way that makes it easy for your beneficiaries.