It is common for individuals to want their adult children involved when they meet with their estate planning attorney. It is also common for adult children to want to be involved with their aging parents’ meetings. But is it wise to have your adult children involved?

This issue typically arises in the area of estate planning and elder law. While family involvement is important, there are several reasons attorneys prefer to meet with individuals without their adult children.

The reason? Attorneys are bound by “Rules of Professional Responsibility.” While the ethical rules encompass a wide variety of issues, there are four major rules that estate planning and elder law attorneys are required to follow.

Client identification: Every attorney has an ethical obligation to clearly identify who their client is. A client is the person whose interest is most at stake in relation to the estate planning or legal problem.

Per the ethical rules, the client – and only the client – is the one to whom the attorney has professional duties of competence, diligence, loyalty, and confidentiality. This is true regardless of who is paying the bill.

Therefore, when an individual comes to an attorney for his/her estate plan, said individual is the client, not the individual’s children.

Conflicts of interest: Every attorney has an ethical obligation to avoid conflicts of interest. A conflict of interest is when another party’s interests are averse to those of the clients.

When representing an elderly client, sometimes the wishes and desires of the adult child may be in direct conflict with the best interests and wishes of the elderly client. The elderly client might be reluctant to voice his/her concerns if the child is involved in the meeting.

Therefore, to eliminate the conflict of interest and to ensure any documents or legal problems are handled based upon the client’s wishes, it is vitally important to meet with the client alone. This creates a space where the client is comfortable and able to discuss matters freely and candidly with the attorney.

Confidentiality: Every attorney has an ethical obligation to keep communications and information between the attorney and the client confidential. Meaning, attorneys cannot share information with adult children without the client’s approval. Each client’s desires for how much information is shared is different, and the attorney must respect the client’s desire for confidentiality.

Capacity: Every attorney has ethical obligations in working with clients whose capacity for making decisions is diminished. Assessing a client’s capacity is part of getting to the know the client.

Therefore, meeting privately with a client gives the attorney the ability to ensure the client understands the issue and is making his/her own choices. When adult children answer all the questions, it is difficult for the attorney to adequately assess the client’s level of understanding.

Unfortunately, sometimes the attorney may determine that a client lacks the capacity to execute estate planning documents. In that case, the attorney is unable to assist with the particular task but can always explore other options that might be available.

For attorneys, being clear about who is the client, protecting confidentiality, and assessing capacity protects not only the client, but the adult children and family too.

So, while family involvement is important, understanding the ways legal services are provided are equally important, and adult children or family members should not be alarmed or offended when they are asked to “wait in the waiting room.”

Rebekah Thompson is an associate attorney with Elder Law & Estate Planning Center.