Should You Worry About Conflicts of Interest During COVID?
Did you know that estate planning is the legal field most likely to encounter conflicts of interest? A conflict of interest happens when a lawyer is trying to represent multiple connected clients, and it can lead to big issues. Being aware of how COVID conflicts of interest may arise will help you keep them from causing problems in your estate planning.
What’s a Conflict of Interest?
A conflict of interest occurs whenever an estate planning litigation lawyer is working with more than one client involved in a certain situation. Essentially, it happens if a lawyer is working for two or more parties and behaves in a way that harms one of the client’s interests.
For example, a lawyer could advise both a parent and a child on their financial affairs. If the parent comes to the lawyer and wants to cut that child out of the will, a potential conflict of interest may arise. Conflicts of interest could also happen if an attorney themselves is the second party who has the potential to get undue benefits. Attorneys can avoid a conflict of interest by informing each client of the situation in writing and continuing to represent each client to the best of their interests.
How COVID Is Leading to More Conflicts of Interest
Though exact statistics on COVID conflicts of interest are not available just yet, many estate planning litigation lawyers have weighed in with concern about how the virus may cause conflicts of interest. One potential problem is that times of unrest make it easier for unethical people to take advantage of others. If a client is seriously ill because of COVID-19 or related causes, it may be easier for an attorney to talk them into changing their will. With so much signing and notarizing being done remotely now, the potential for fraud is particularly high.
Another less ominous reason is simply that most people cannot shop for a new attorney right now. Since they cannot easily go around and meet a bunch of estate planners, they are more likely to just go with the lawyer recommended by their family. This can end up with an estate planning lawyer representing multiple connected clients. COVID-19 is also causing more of the situations that lead to conflicts of interest. Things like one client having a parent’s power of attorney and another client being the trustee for their parent’s living trust may result in disagreements if the parent is incapacitated because of COVID-19.
What You Can Do to Handle Conflicts of Interest
Taking steps to avoid a conflict of interest from the start can make everything a lot easier. Start by just talking with any relatives, partners, or friends who share the same attorney as you. See whether they have concerns and consider selecting a different estate planning lawyer. If you choose a lawyer who may have a conflict of interest, be sure to read their disclosure fully. Ask about what the lawyer will do to keep conflicts from becoming a problem.
If you suspect that a coronavirus conflict of interest is harming you or a loved one, it is a good idea to seek unbiased assistance. Talk to a new estate planning litigation lawyer who is not involved in the situation yet to get their input. In some cases, conflicts of interest have led to wills being revoked and other major changes. Therefore, you need to get legal advice on potentially contesting an estate planning document.
The Knee Law Firm has the experience and knowledge needed to handle COVID estate planning without creating conflicts of interest. If you want to make sure you and your loved ones are protected, we can assist with wills, trusts, power of attorney documents, and more. Our Hackensack team is currently working remotely, offering video calls and e-signing options. To schedule a consultation with us, call 201-996-1200 or email us.