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Can the Will's Drafter be Sued?

Aug 22 2016

Written by Jason C. Henbest, Esq. and Brittany Saxton

Recently, the Supreme Court of Virginia upheld a $600,000.00 judgment against a lawyer for drafting a client’s Will that did not meet the expectations of a third party beneficiary. In Thorsen v. Richmond Society for the Prevention Of Cruelty of Animals, the testatrix of the Will, Alice, undisputedly intended for her elderly mother to inherit her estate. The next-to-inherit was the Richmond Society For The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (hereinafter “the Richmond SPCA”). After a short while, Alice’s mother passed away, and Alice was soon to follow.

A dispute arose as to who was going to inherit Alice’s estate. The Circuit Court held the Richmond SPCA was to inherit Alice’s tangible personal property, only worth around $70,000.00, and Alice’s heirs-in-law would inherit her real estate, worth approximately $600,000.00. The Richmond SPCA argued they were an intended third party beneficiary of Alice’s contract with the lawyer, since both Alice and the attorney signed the estate planning documents. In the Supreme Court of Virginia, the attorney who drafted Alice’s Will argued he could not be liable for breach of contract with the Richmond SPCA because he had not entered into a written contract with the third party in respect to Alice’s Will. The Supreme Court rejected the attorney’s argument, upheld the trial court’s decision, and thus the lawyer was liable to pay $600,000.00 to the Richmond SPCA for drafting a ‘bad Will.’

Overall, this case serves as a warning to testators, beneficiaries and attorneys alike: make sure your intentions are explicitly and clearly stated in your estate planning documents. If the language of the Will can be interpreted differently than the intentions of the testatrix, the Will needs to be reworded. Hence, this type of problem can be easily resolved from the get-go by retaining an experienced and qualified estate planning attorney to draft your documents. Call our office to schedule a free consultation with experienced lawyers, today, in order to avoid litigation costs in the future.  

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