CT: Underlying will matter
Facts: The client hired the lawyer to draft her last will and testament. The lawyer failed to ensure that the will provided the required number of witnesses. As a result, the Probate Court declared the will invalid and assets of the estate were given to persons other than the will’s intended beneficiaries. The intended beneficiaries filed a two count complaint: (1) the client’s estate has suffered damages of $7500, and (2) as a result of the lawyer’s negligence, assets of the client’s estate were diverted to other persons. The lawyer demurred on the basis that certain elements of the alleged damage were improper and that there was no duty owed to the beneficiaries because there was no privity of contract.
Issue: Can a legatee of a will that has been deemed invalid as a result of not meeting statutory requirements, by fault of the lawyer’s negligence, bring an action against the lawyer for the losses sustained by being deprived of his intended rights under the will?
Holding: Yes. The Court held that “liability for negligent performance of a contract, or nonperformance, should be imposed where the injury to a person is foreseeable. . .” The harm that would result from the lawyer’s negligence was well within the realm of reasonable foreseeability. Thus, a liability link is established even in the absence of privity, and the intended legatees had every right to establish their right to redress. Due to the technical nature of drafting a will and the privacy that is often involved in the drafting, it is the duty of the lawyer, not the person making the will or the intended beneficiaries, to ensure that the will is valid.
Lesson: Imposition of a duty to third parties under these circumstances is grounded in public policy. The Court justifies this decision by reasoning that public policy considerations tip in favor of the innocent third party seeking damages that are a result of an error over which they had no control or ability to correct.