Malpractice Suit Can't be Brought by Beneficiary in Unexecuted Document

 Estate of Agnew v. Ross, 152 A.3d 247

Individuals who are not named in an executed testamentary document do not have standing to bring a legal malpractice actions against testator’s attorney, as purported third-party beneficiaries.

In November 2003, the testator Robert Agnew retained defendant-appellant Daniel Ross, Esquire, to draft various estate planning documents.  Over the next several years, Ross drafted various amendments to both the Revocable Trust and the Will.  As of 2010, Agnew's Will bequeathed specific gifts of cash and property to selected friends and family members.  The remainder interest in the trust was to be distributed to Muhlenberg College, Temple University, Chestnut Hill College and Drexel University

In March 2010, Agnew was admitted into a hospice program.  During that summer, appellee Margaret Alzamora, contacted Ross and told him Agnew wanted to make changes to his estate plan.  She advised  Ross that the residue of Agnew's Revocable Trust was no longer to be distributed to the three colleges indicated in the 2007 Trust Amendment, but now was to be divided into five equal shares between appellees.

Ross drafted an amendment to the Revocable Trust (the 2010 Trust Amendment), which continued to provide for gifts in the amount of $250,000 to four colleges, but expressly provided that the residue of the assets of the Revocable Trust was to be distributed to appellees.  Ross also drafted a revised Will, which provided various monetary gifts to appellees and their children.

Agnew signed the new will but he did not sign the trust amendment.

To the extent the attorney has drafted testamentary documents, which have been fully executed by the testator, such documents are conclusive evidence the testator intended to benefit the named beneficiaries, and we hold individuals who are named only in unexecuted, consequently invalid documents — such as appellees with respect to the 2010 Trust Amendment — may not claim status as third-party beneficiaries of the legal contract between the testator and his attorney, and may not achieve a legacy through alternate means, such as a breach of contract action. The trial court correctly determined appellees' claims fail as a matter of law, and the Superior Court erred in reversing that determination.

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