Opinion rules that a lawyer who formerly represented an estate may not subsequently defend the former personal representative against a claim brought by the estate.
Mr. X was named by his grandmother in her will as executor of her estate. Mr. X qualified as the executor and began his duties. Thereafter he employed Attorney A to assist him in fulfilling his duties as executor. Attorney A assisted Mr. X in the preparation of a few of the probate filings and various miscellaneous matters.
Allegations of misconduct were informally made against Mr. X after he began his duties as executor. Attorney A received a telephone call from the husband of one of the heirs making general accusations against Mr. X, containing no specific facts or statements. Attorney A received no documentary evidence. The accusations were that Mr. X procured real estate from his grandmother while he was her attorney-in-fact. Attorney A related the accusations to Mr. X and asked him to explain. Mr. X did explain the transactions involved, and the physical evidence bore out his explanation that his grandmother signed a deed to him of her own free will under no duress or influence. Attorney A continued to advise Mr. X with regard to his duties as executor.
Thereafter, a petition was filed to have Mr. X removed as executor of the estate. At the time of a hearing before the clerk of Superior Court, Mr. X resigned stating to the clerk that he was unable to conduct his duties in the face of disharmony and conflict with the heirs making those accusations. Mr. S was named as administrator C.T.A., and Mr. X turned over to Mr. S all of the estate's assets in his possession.
Thereafter, Mr. S filed a civil action against Mr. X alleging breach of fiduciary duty and breach of contract. Mr. X asked Attorney A to defend him in the civil action. Attorney A undertook to do so. Various discovery requests were exchanged between the parties and Attorney A represented Mr. X in this aspect of the proceeding.
Subsequently, Mr. S, through his attorney, filed a petition in Superior Court to disqualify Attorney A as attorney representing Mr. X on the basis of conflict of interest.
May Attorney A continue representing Mr. X?
No. In accepting employment in regard to an estate, an attorney undertakes to represent the personal representative in his or her official capacity and the estate as an entity. Rule 5.1(d) of the Rules of Professional Conduct prohibits an attorney from representing any interest adverse to that of a former client in the same or substantially related matter without the former client's consent. In the subject action for breach of fiduciary duty and breach of contract, the interests of Attorney A's former client, the estate, are adverse to those of Mr. X. That being the case, Attorney A may not continue to represent Mr. X against the estate without the estate's consent.