Can an attorney be the executor of an estate and be the only beneficiary in the Will of that estate?

UPDATED: Dec 15, 2011

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Can an attorney be the executor of an estate and be the only beneficiary in the Will of that estate?

Asked on December 15, 2011 under Estate Planning, New Jersey


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 11 years ago | Contributor

Legally, this allowed--someone may be sole beneficiary and executor, and attorneys are not disqualified from either.

However, if there is evidence that the attorney exercised "undue influence" over the testator (one making the will), committed fraud (i.e. misrepresented some important fact to the testator), or simply illegally forged or modified the will or testator's signature, then other possible heirs could potentially overturn the will. In the event of wrongdoing, the attorney could suffer disciplinary sanctions, be subject to a civil lawsuit, and possibly also suffer criminal penalties.

It looks "odd" when someone's lawyer is beneficiary and executor; the attorney should expect in such a circumstance that there may be some challenge or at least heightened scutiny.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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