Personal Representative's Attorney Does Not Owe Duty of Care to Estate

A Washington appeals court holds that an attorney hired by a personal representative to help probate an estate does not owe a duty of care to the estate, so a successor personal representative cannot sue her for legal malpractice. Benjamin v. Singleton (Wash. Ct. App., No. 77684-3-I, January 28, 2019).

A court appointed Leonardo Monk as administrator of his mother's estate. Attorney Dalynne Singleton appeared in court on behalf of Mr. Monk and obtained an order approving the sale of estate property. Mr. Monk spent more than $110,000 of the proceeds from the sale for his own use, violating a court order to disperse the funds. The court removed Mr. Monk and appointed Andrew Benjamin as successor administrator.

Mr. Benjamin sued Ms. Singleton for legal malpractice, arguing that she failed to inform the court about discord between Mr. Monk and the other heirs and to ensure the proceeds were placed into the proper account. Ms. Singleton moved to dismiss the lawsuit because Mr. Benjamin did not have standing to bring a legal malpractice claim, and the trial court granted her motion. Mr. Benjamin appealed.

The Court of Appeals affirms, holding that Mr. Benjamin does not having standing to bring a legal malpractice case against Ms. Singleton because Ms. Singleton owed a duty of care to Mr. Monk, not the estate. According to the court, requiring Ms. Singleton "to act in the best interest of the estate or all its heirs would create the risk of interfering with her duty of undivided loyalty to [Mr. Monk]."

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