Representation of Administratrix in Official and Individual Capacities
Opinion rules that in the absence of consent from the heirs, a lawyer may not represent the administratrix officially and personally where her interests in the two roles are in conflict.
Intestate person I died in North Carolina in 1984, leaving as statutory heirs his second wife B and two minor children, M and N, from a previous marriage in Virginia which ended in divorce in 1979. Wife B, represented by Attorney X, qualified as Administratrix in North Carolina, survived a challenge for removal for cause by Creditor 1, and continues as Administratrix in the open estate.
Among other claims on the estate, Creditor 1, a secured and unsecured lender, has brought suit on a refusal to pay a claim based on deeds of trust and notes signed by both I and B as well as on unsecured credit extensions. Creditor 2, the ex-wife of I, has filed suit for breach of contract based on the failure of I to provide college tuition or a life insurance policy to provide college tuition, pursuant to a separation agreement executed by I in Virginia. The guardian ad litem for M and N is a party plaintiff in Creditor 2's suit. Both creditors' suits name the Administratrix in both her official capacity and personally as parties defendant because of the refusal of the Administratrix to refer the claims, seeking costs from her in both capacities under GS Section 28A-19-18.
Attorney X has answered Creditor l's suit for the Administratrix B, both in her official capacity and individually. X has not yet answered the suit of Creditor 2.
May X ethically continue to represent B against Creditor 1's claims in both capacities? May X ethically represent B in both her capacities in the suit by Creditor 2, even if B consents, but M and N do not consent through their guardian ad litem?
No, Attorney X may not ethically represent Administratrix B in both her individual and official capacities in the suits brought by Creditor 1 and Creditor 2. Rule 5.1 prohibits a lawyer from undertaking to represent and from continuing to represent clients with adverse interests unless the representation will not be adversely affected and the clients consent after full disclosure. In both suits, the interests of the estate are involved, which includes the interests of the two minor children. In both suits, the interests of Administratrix B as an individual are also involved and may be adverse to the interests of the estate. Without the consent of the heirs, including the minor children, Attorney B cannot represent the Administratrix in both her official and individual capacities where there are conflicts between her interests in the two roles.