CT: Underlying will matter
Facts: The client hired the lawyer to draft her will. The client wished to distribute $40,000 to one son; $25,000 to her daughter; and two houses to her other son. After the client died, it was discovered that the assets of her estate were insufficient to satisfy the specific bequests of her will. The client’s beneficiaries sued the lawyer alleging several counts of negligence including failure to inquire into the amount and nature of the client’s assets and failure to address conflicting provisions in the will. The lawyer filed a motion for summary judgment on the basis that he owed no legal duty to the beneficiaries to ascertain the assets of the client’s estate. The trial court upheld the summary judgment motion. The beneficiaries appealed, arguing that the lawyer is liable for his failure to inquire into the nature of the client’s assets and his failure to make a provision in the will to fund specific bequests in the event the client’s assets were insufficient.
Issue: Does the lawyer owe a legal duty to the beneficiaries other than to prepare the will as requested by the client?
“It is the lawyer’s obligation to use the care, skill, diligence, and knowledge that a reasonable, prudent lawyer would exercise in order to draft the will according to the wishes of the client.”
Lawyers are generally not liable to persons other than their clients for the negligent rendering of services. In this case, the beneficiaries have provided no support for the theory that a lawyer owes a duty to beneficiaries to ensure the existence of testamentary assets when drafting a will. Thus, the lawyer is not liable for failure to ensure the assets were available and does not have to pay for the assets himself.
Lesson: A lawyer’s principle obligation in drafting a will is to draft in accordance with the client’s wishes, keeping in mind the best interests of the client. Claims of malpractice in will cases generally focus on errors in the drafting and execution of wills. Here, the lawyer drafted the will according to the client’s wishes, and thus is not liable to the beneficiaries simply because he did not ensure that the client actually possessed the assets she bequeathed to them.