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Intended Beneficiaries as Exceptions to the Rule of Privity

Guy v. Liederbach, 501 Pa. 47 (Pa. 1983)

PA. Underlying Will Action

Student Contributor: Melissa Goldberg

Facts: Kent, then a resident of Pennsylvania, retained Defendant to draft a one-page "Last Will and Testament," which Defendant did on the same day. The will provided that Plaintiff was to be the beneficiary of the residuary estate. Guy was also named executrix of the estate. The will was signed by Kent and, allegedly at Defendant’s  direction, was witnessed by Plaintiff and Defendant. Kent died. After offering the will for probate, the court invalidated the gift to Plaintiff because Plaintiff was a subscribing witness to will. Plaintiff argued Defendant was negligent in advising the Plaintiff to become an attesting witness to the will. Also, Plaintiff argued the action and conduct of the Defendant in directing and advising the Plaintiff to become an attesting witness to the will amounted to a breach of the contract between Kent and Defendant to which contract the Plaintiff was a third party beneficiary.

Issue: Does a named beneficiary of a will who is also named executrix have a cause of action against the attorney who drafted the will and directed her to witness it where the fact that she witnessed the will voided her entire legacy and her appointment as executrix?

Result: In a wills action, a properly restricted cause of action for third party beneficiaries in accord with the principles of Restatement (Second) of Contracts § 302 is available to named legatees, who would otherwise have no recourse for failed legacies, which result from attorney malpractice.

1) The will, providing for one or more named beneficiaries, clearly manifests the intent of the testator to benefit the legatee
2) The grant of standing to a narrow class of third party beneficiaries is "appropriate" under Restatement (Second) of Contracts § 302 where the intent to benefit is clear and the promisee (testator) is unable to enforce the contract.

Lesson: Important policy concerns require privity to maintain an action in negligence for professional malpractice. However, a named legatee of a will may sue as an intended third party beneficiary of the contract between the attorney and the testator for the drafting of a will which specifically names the legatee as a recipient of all or part of the estate because named beneficiary has no other discourse.

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Posted in: Pennsylvania, Privity, Wills Trusts & Estates