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SC: Nonexistent Will Equals Nonexistent Duty

Rydde v. Morris, 381 S.C. 643 (S.C. 2009)

SC: Underlying estate matter

Student Contributor: Karen Dindayal

Facts:  Johanna W. Knight was an elderly person, who retained Morris to handle her estate planning matters. In the estate planning questionnaire provided by Morris, Knight named Rydde and Konij as her prospective will beneficiaries on September 22, 2005. Before her actual will was even prepared, Knight became incapacitated on September 28, 2005 and died on October 3, 2005 causing her estate to pass through intestacy. The prospective beneficiaries Rydde and Konij filed suit against Morris for legal malpractice on the theory that Morriss had a duty to these two individuals to draft Knights’ will between September 22nd and September 27th, before Knight become unresponsive. Morris then filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a cause of action, which was granted, and Rydde and Konij appealed.

Issue:  Did the circuit court correctly grant Morris’ motion to dismiss Rydde’s and Konif’s suit for Morris’ alleged negligent failure to timely draft a will?

Ruling: Yes. An attorney owes no duty to a prospective beneficiary of a nonexistent will.

Lesson:  There must be an attorney-client relationship before a party may make a claim for legal malpractice and there exists no privity between an attorney and the prospective beneficiaries of a will.

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Posted in: Privity, South Carolina, Wills Trusts & Estates