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PA: Death Bed Wills: Duty of Loyalty to Client or His Alleged "Agent"?

Gregg v. Lindsay, 437 Pa. Super. 206 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1994)

PA: Underlying Wills Transaction

Student Contributor: Melissa Goldberg

Facts: Defendant drafted a will for Blain, which was duly executed. Blain was admitted to the hospital where he was confined to the Intensive Care Unit. While there, Blain was visited by his longtime friend, Plaintiff. According to Plaintiff’s subsequent testimony, he raised with Blain the matter of a will; and after some discussion, Blain directed him to contact Defendant and have him draft a new will making a substantial bequest to Plaintiff and also naming Plaintiff as executor. Thereafter, Plaintiff called Defendant and told him that Blain was in the Intensive Care Unit, was in serious condition, and desired a new will, which was to be drafted and executed the same day. To emphasize the need for haste, but without any authority from Blain, Plaintiff told Defendant that if a new will could not be drafted and executed the same day, he, Plaintiff, would find another lawyer to do the job. A new will was unable to be drafted and executed WW before Blain died.

Issue: Should standing be expanded to allow recovery where, as here, (1) the new will was never executed by the testator, and (2) the facts send a mixed signal regarding the person to whom the lawyer owed a primary duty of loyalty?

Result:  The executed will must firmly have evidence of the existence of the third party beneficiary contract intended to benefit the legatee. Here, however, there was no executed will that could clearly establish intent by the testator to benefit a third person.
1) there was no breach of contract between the decedent and his lawyer.
2) It was Plaintiff and not Blain who had called Lindsay and who had directed him regarding the preparation of a will.
3) Lindsay’s first direct contact with Blain came later the same day when Lindsay took the will, which he had prepared to Blain’s hospital room.

Lesson: To permit a third person to call a lawyer and dictate the terms of a will to be drafted for a hospitalized client of the lawyer and to find therein a contract intended to benefit the third person caller, even though the will was never executed, would severely undermine the duty of loyalty owed by a lawyer to the client and would encourage fraudulent claims.  

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Posted in: Pennsylvania, Wills Trusts & Estates