Q: The successor of my father's deceased lawyer isn’t helping me obtain a will from his files. Is this ethical?
My father recently passed. His lawyer (now deceased) held the original signed will (unsigned copies were with my father and me). I reached out to the lawyer who inherited the files. He confirmed as the successor, pledged to check for the files, and communicate further. Regrettably, he failed to follow through. Over a month has passed, and his unresponsiveness has delayed settling my father’s affairs. His calls are screened by the admin, he never returns phone messages or direct emails. While his future cooperation seems unlikely, his questionable ethics trouble me. I'm uncertain if this situation could be deemed a reportable offense, given its impact on my family and disregard for professional standards. I value your insights on navigating this issue.
A: It is unfortunate that this attorney has stopped communicating with you, especially if he has already confirmed that he is the successor to the prior attorney's practice and has his files. Since you have a copy of the Will, I would recommend that you hire your own attorney (assuming that you are a beneficiary and/or executor under your father's Will) to approach this "new" attorney to demand the original Will (if you are a named Executor) or a copy of the signed Will if for some reason he cannot locate the original. If you are not named Executor your attorney can demand a copy of the signed Will if you are named a beneficiary under the Will in the copy that you have.
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A: I would talk to the admin. Why spend the money on an attorney searching for the will? Given how unusual it is for an attorney to retain possession of an original signed will, I know you would have better luck talking to the admin in my office than talking to me about the physical location of an original will prepared by one of my law partners. I wouldn’t have the faintest idea where to look.
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