Can an attorney be the executor of an estate and be the only beneficiary in the Will of that estate?

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Can an attorney be the executor of an estate and be the only beneficiary in the Will of that estate?

Asked on December 15, 2011 under Estate Planning, New Jersey

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

Legally, this allowed--someone may be sole beneficiary and executor, and attorneys are not disqualified from either.

However, if there is evidence that the attorney exercised "undue influence" over the testator (one making the will), committed fraud (i.e. misrepresented some important fact to the testator), or simply illegally forged or modified the will or testator's signature, then other possible heirs could potentially overturn the will. In the event of wrongdoing, the attorney could suffer disciplinary sanctions, be subject to a civil lawsuit, and possibly also suffer criminal penalties.

It looks "odd" when someone's lawyer is beneficiary and executor; the attorney should expect in such a circumstance that there may be some challenge or at least heightened scutiny.


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