Be wary of lawyer who self-appoints in will

Posted: June 20, 2012

DEAR HARRY: A couple of years ago, my sister asked me to sit with her while her lawyer drew up her will. She has no children and no husband. She does have three younger brothers and three younger sisters. I am the only one older than this sister. There are too many nieces and nephews to count. The will was pretty standard, according to the lawyer, with everything going equally to her brothers and sisters. If any had died before her, their share would go to their children. The lawyer told me he'd send me a copy of the will, which never happened. Last week, my sister showed me her copy of the will. It says that the lawyer named himself as the executor. In another document, he got her to sign a full power of attorney over all her assets. She was not aware of any of this, but felt she was too old to change it. What do you think of this? She has known this man only slightly and for a short period.

What Harry says: I was involved in a similar situation many years ago. The will named the lawyer as executor. Upon the man's death, he then proceeded to name one of his partners as lawyer for the estate. He got a handsome fee as executor, and his partner also got a substantial fee as lawyer for the estate. That is not always the case, but it put me on notice to be careful in the future. For this reason and others, I prefer a close friend or relative, who is not a potential beneficiary, to be the executor. The executor can then decide who he wants to be the lawyer for the estate. The person with the power of attorney should be very trustworthy and normally a close member of the family. n

Email Harry Gross at harrygross@phillynews.com or write to him at Harry Gross c/o the Daily News, PO Box 8263 Philadelphia, PA 19101. Harry urges all his readers to give blood — contact the American Red Cross at 800-Red Cross.

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