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PA: Breach of Fiduciary Duty: Where Attorneys Serve as Executors

In re Estate of Westin, 874 A.2d 139, 2005 PA Super 158 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2005)

PA Underlying Will Probate

Student Contributor: John Anzalone

Facts: Creditors of an estate bring suit to remove  Attorney as the executor of the estate because of the embezzlement of the estate’s funds by an employee of the law firm. The lower court held that the request to remove Executor Attorney was moot since he voluntarily agreed to withdraw.

Issue: Did the Orphan’s Court err in refusing the creditor’s request to remove the Executor Attorney as executor of the estate?

Ruling: In reversing the lower court, the Superior Court held that the lower court should have dismissed the Executor Attorney and appointed a new executor, based on the following considerations:
1) The court  can remove an executor of an estate when that executor’s personal interests conflict with the estates and "cannot be served simultaneously."
2) Here, the estate has an action against the executor for the embezzlement from the account maintained by the executor for the estate. There is a conflict of interest here because the Executor Attorney would have to sue himself and his law firm on behalf of the estate to protect the estate’s interests.

Lesson: Even where an attorney-executor recognizes his conflict of interest and resigns, the court can still officially remove him and appoint another in his place.  Here is another example of the sometimes troubling issues raised when an attorney who prepares a will, names himself as Executor and serves in that role. 

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Posted in: Fiduciary Duty, Pennsylvania, Wills Trusts & Estates