Some clients develop close relationships with their attorneys. The bonds of friendship are so strong in some instances that the client may consider leaving the attorney valuable assets when putting together his or her estate plan. That may leave you wondering, should I leave my attorney a gift in my will?
Michigan Rules of Professional Conduct
Some professions have “unwritten rules” addressing what is and is not ethical. The legal profession, in contrast, has strong rules to guide ethical decisions. These written rules are found in this state in the Michigan Rules of Professional Conduct.
In all, the rules seek to hold those in the legal profession to the highest standard of professional responsibility. A violation of these rules typically only has consequences for the attorney as they are designed to protect the client.
The Michigan Rules of Professional Conduct state an attorney is not allowed to draft any instrument for a client that may benefit him- or herself or another attorney at their firm. While these rules may seem burdensome, they seek to make certain that the client is not subject to any undue influence.
What is undue influence?
Undue influence is when someone experiences coercive pressure from a person of trust. The pressure is so extreme that the person effectively loses his or her own free will and drafts the will in a way he or she otherwise would not have, such as by disinheriting a loved one in favor of an unexpected or surprising choice of beneficiary, usually the person exerting the undue influence. In fact, undue influence may be grounds to contest a will.
Now, if an attorney does draft a will for you that benefits him or her, a court will assume you have been subjected to undue influence. This means other beneficiaries of your will have strong grounds to object to the gift to the attorney. This is not a result you want. You want to be sure the documents drafted by your attorney are as legally sound as possible and leave no room for anyone to contest them. To avoid this potential situation, you should never have an attorney draft a document that benefits that attorney. Doing so may call into question every document that has been drafted.
Help is available
A good rule of thumb when finding an attorney to draft your will is to find someone who has no interest at all. This will make it all the more difficult for someone to contest your will and will ensure that you are able to have done with your estate what you wish.
The estate planning attorneys at O’Reilly Rancilio are ready to answer your questions regarding what should and should not be included in your will. For more information, please call 586-726-1000 or visit our website.