State of Washington
Ethics Advisory CommitteeOpinion 99-03
May a judicial officer serve as the executor or trustee for a first cousin, first cousin once removed and his or her spouse?
The judicial officer has been appointed as the executor of the estate of a first cousin with whom the judicial officer has maintained a close familial relationship all of their lives. The will has been filed in the same court as the judicial officer sits and is not now involved in any adversary proceedings in that court.
In the second case, the judicial officer has been asked to serve as a co-trustee along with a financial institution for a first cousin once removed and the cousin’s spouse.
CJC Canon 5(D) provides in part that judges may serve as executors or trustees for members of their families if that service will not interfere with the proper performance of their judicial duties. The Terminology section of the Code of Judicial Conduct defines “member of the judge’s family” as including a spouse, child, grandchild, parent, grandparent, or other relative or person with whom the judge maintains a close familial relationship. Even though that service is permitted, judges should not serve if it is likely that as a fiduciary they will be engaged in proceedings that would ordinarily come before them or if the estate becomes involved in adversary proceedings. While acting as executor or trustee, judges are subject to the same restrictions on financial activities that apply to them in their personal capacities.
Canon 5(D) permits a judicial officer to act as the executor or trustee of a first cousin, first cousin once removed, and the spouse of that cousin provided that service does not interfere with the performance of judicial duties or reflect adversely upon their impartiality. If the estate were to become involved in any adversary proceedings, the judge would be required to withdraw as the executor or trustee.
Opinion 87-7 is distinguishable from this opinion because it did not involve acting as a family fiduciary.
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