Should co-executors have independent legal representation?
3 attorney answers
Under these circumstances, I believe that each co-personal representative should have independent legal counsel. You have a certain legal position, and your sister likely has an opposing legal position in the same matter. That's a classic conflict of interest. No single attorney can advocate for both sides. It is important to act quickly in order to preserve your right to be appointed as co-personal representatives. It's also important that both co-personal representatives cooperate for the benefit of the other beneficiaries, lest the court select a professional neutral personal representative to administer the estate.
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The fact that you and your step-sister have competing interests creates a conflict of interest that requires separate representation. If your step-sister is willing to waive her claim to the proceeds from the sale of the mineral rights, and consents to split the proceeds as residual property under the will, then one attorney may be able to represent both personal representatives with an appropriate conflict waiver. Based on the limited facts in your question, it sounds as though your step-sister is not willing to waive her claim. In that case, I recommend retaining your own attorney in Washington State to represent your interests. You should contact someone sooner than later as your step-sister may attempt to open probate (if she has not already) and have herself appointed as the sole personal representative. There are strict timelines for challenging the appointment and, practically speaking, it may be very difficult to "claw back" any funds that your step-sister may prematurely distribute to herself. Retaining separate counsel will unfortunately result in higher fees and the estate is probably responsible for reimbursing the costs of administration under the provisions of your mother's will. I wish you the best in resolving your dispute during this difficult time.
Please note that the answer to the above-stated question: (1) is provided after a review of limited facts; (2) may vary based on the specific facts; (3) is not intended to convey or constitute legal advice; (4) does not create an attorney-client relationship; and (5) is not a substitute for obtaining legal advice from a qualified attorney.
Understanding the caveat that, until an attorney reads the will and investigates the facts, they cannot give you a specific answer to your specific question-- Generically speaking, the attorney is not representing the estate, they are representing the personal representative (who, in turn, has the fiduciary responsibility to the estate).
In what you describe: Even IF the attorney was engaged by you and your stepsister JOINTLY, since you and she have a disagreement concerning the distribution, your interests are no longer aligned and you almost certainly need to have your own independent counsel to advise you moving forward.
This communication is not to be interpreted as specific legal advise with regard to the matter-in-question. Nor does it in any way create an attorney-client relationship.