Trials & Litigation

Lawyer whose family was to get $14M from client's estate: Ethical issue shouldn't invalidate will

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Initially, a Michigan divorce attorney denied that he had prepared a will for a longtime friend that left $10 million in trust for the lawyer’s two children and gave the attorney another $4 million.

But as a probate-court trial loomed in a Charlevoix County will contest brought by relatives of the decedent, Robert “Bobby” Mardigian, attorney Mark Papazian admitted that he had, in fact, drafted the will, according to court documents.

That resulted in a bench ruling for the plaintiffs in the will contest, which the Giarmarco Mullins & Horton partner is appealing, reports the Detroit Free Press. Even if his conduct could be deemed unethical, Papazian argues, that could and should be dealt with in a separate attorney disciplinary case. Only if undue influence is shown, he says, should the will be invalidated.

Attorney Gerald Gleeson is representing Mardigian’s brother Edward and has a different perspective..

“For over 100 years, the Supreme Court has ‘bluntly warned’ lawyers not to receive gifts from clients under wills they themselves have drafted,” says Gleeson in a court filing. It argues Edward Mardigian and his two children should be recognized as the heirs.

Papazian is represented by Rodger Young, who says filing an attorney grievance is the proper forum for addressing any ethical issue. However, state lawmakers have not invalidated gifts to a lawyer who drafts a will, and, if they had wanted to do so, would have done so, Young contends.

Under the Michigan Rules of Professional Conduct a lawyer is not supposed to get any benefit from a will he drafts unless the testator is a relative, the newspaper notes.

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