My sister made her financial advisor the executor of her estate as well as making the advisor trustee over 3 scholarships for nieces and nephews AND left several items of great value to the advisor making the advisor a recipient of the estate beyond the fees allowed for executing the will Is this legal? Wouldn't this be a conflict of interest for the advisor at the very least extremely unethical?
It would be legal from the point of view of the state of Georgia, as long as it's really in line with your sister's wishes. However, as already pointed out by the first two respondents, this situation raises a lot of red flags, since it's rather unusual. As also pointed out already, most of the financial advisors I deal with would tell you that they are not allowed by their companies to serve in these roles or accept benefits from clients' estate plans, unless your sister was also the advisor's close relative (which I assume was not the case). Your sister's heirs should consult attorneys as soon as possible. It may be possible to challenge the Will, or to have another Executor appointed instead, among other steps.
I am surprised that AXA let the financial advisor do this. If anything, you should confirm with AXA in writing that the financial advisor has received the clearance to do this from compliance. You may need an attorney to draft and send the letter since the firm will likely cite privacy issues in providing you further information.
A person can generally leave their estate to whoever they wish to leave it to. This type of arrangement does have some red flags, though. If there is some reason to think that your sister is being taken advantage of, then you can report this to adult protective services. Many financial service companies have rules that prevent employees from accepting inheritances or gifts from clients.
Most financial companies do have rules prohibiting financial advisers to also act as executors or trustees and accepting bequests. Since your sister discussed her estate plan with you, I assume you are on good terms. One thing your sister could do is have a family member serve as co-executor or cotrustee with an independent Trustee.
As long as the wishes of the testator is followed, there is no conflict. The testator may give to whomever the testator chooses, including but not limited to the non related person they pick as the executor.
Darrell B. Reynolds,
Attorney and Counselor at Law
2385 Lawrenceville Highway, Ste D
Decatur, Ga. 30033