Most estate matters in Maryland can be administered with relatively few snags and setbacks. However, there are times when unexpected complications can arise.
For example, there are circumstances when one’s personal and professional interests diverge.
What is a conflict of interest?
In general terms, a conflict of interest could arise when someone’s personal and professional or financial interests are in direct conflict. This could relate to an attorney representing two individuals on separate sides of an issue.
Conflicting interests could also occur if the attorney is related to one or more parties in a legal matter. The conflict could also be considered potential rather than actual.
The Maryland Attorneys’ Rules of Professional Conduct codify the guidelines to avoid conflict of interest this way:
“…(A)n attorney shall not represent a client if the representation involves a conflict of interest. A conflict of interest exists if:
(1) the representation of one client will be directly adverse to another client; or
(2) there is a significant risk that the representation of one or more clients will be materially limited by the attorney’s responsibilities to another client, a former client or a third person or by a personal interest of the attorney.”
What types of conflict of interest can place barriers during probate, and what are some remedies for a resolution?
Types of conflict of interest in Maryland
Under Maryland ethics laws, there are several instances where a probate-related conflict may occur.
An estate planning attorney or financial advisor must disclose information and protect their client’s interests. Potential conflicts could arise if one or more beneficiaries disagree with the terms of the will and both have been represented in the past by the same lawyer.
Another potential conflict could arise if the probate judge is related to one or more persons involved in a probate matter. The same potential for diverging interests occurs if it’s disclosed that an attorney or executor has a financial interest in the outcome of a probate matter.
In any such instance, transparency is essential to avoid even the appearance of self-interest. When potential conflicts are possible, the best course of action is for the conflicted person to voluntarily remove themselves from the case.