When the attorney shuts you out

Many family caregivers are surprised to be told to stay in the waiting room when they bring a loved one to an attorney to create a will or trust. This can feel doubly surprising if you are the one paying for the visit!

Much as you wish to help your relative, the attorney is actually doing you and your loved one a favor by blocking you from the process. The most common lawsuit contesting a will or trust involves one family member accusing another of “undue influence.” The accusation is less likely to stick if the attorney meets with your relative alone.

The four Cs of ethical conduct

An attorney’s job is to be an advocate for the client’s wishes, and ONLY the client’s wishes. The American Bar Association says that to do that, attorneys must follow four principles.

Client Identification. They need to be very sure that everyone knows “who is the client.” Even if you are paying the bill, the client is your relative.

Conflict of interest. Most of the time, attorneys will accept only one member of a family as a client. This way the attorney can go to bat fully for that one person and not be tugged by obligations to anyone else. (An exception may be made in the case of a married couple. The law views them as a single entity.)

Confidentiality. All discussions between an attorney and client are private unless the client specifically requests and gives permission for others to be involved. This is why an attorney may not be able to share information with you.

Competency. Because many elders have issues with memory loss, the lawyer must determine if the client is able to understand the consequences of his or her decisions. The best way to make that assessment is to meet with the client alone.