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Probate and Estate Litigation Blog

What is attorney self-dealing and what can be done about it?

Most Minnesota attorneys do their work honestly and competently. Unfortunately however, there are some who use their legal knowledge and skill to their own advantage and at their client's expense.

In the context of a will or a trust, this often happens when an attorney gets overly entangled in the affairs of an estate, oftentimes naming himself or herself a beneficiary under the will or trust even though he or she also prepared the document. This sort of behavior has been described as attorney self-dealing.

Minnesota courts frown upon an attorney preparing a will or a trust from which he or she will ultimately benefit. Even in cases involving friends and relatives, an attorney must not write up estate planning documents when or she will also in effect profit from the contents thereof. Similarly, an attorney cannot serve as a guardian, an attorney-in-fact, a trustee, etc. and at the same time plan to receive a portion of the estate in question via an inheritance or gift.

Violating these principles can land a Minnesota attorney in hot water and could, in the most flagrant cases, cost the attorney his or her ability to practice law in this state. More importantly, a family who has been victimized by this type of unscrupulous behavior has the right to ask the court to set aside everything in the will or trust that would give the attorney a share in the inheritance.

Attorneys place themselves in a position of trust when they help clients to craft estate planning documents. It's important to hold them accountable when they abuse that trust. It's also important to make sure that families receive the full portion of inheritance they were intended to receive. Cases dealing with attorney self-dealing are highly sensitive. Minnesota attorneys experienced with these cases can help families to understand their legal options when they feel that they have been harmed by attorney self-dealing.

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