139 N.H. 1
SYNOPSIS: Plaintiff intended beneficiary sought review of the decision of the Superior Court of Strafford County (New Hampshire), which issued a directed verdict in favor of defendant lawyer, who drafted the intended beneficiary's father's will. The trial court also granted summary judgment in favor of the lawyer on collateral estoppel grounds based on findings of the probate court and dismissed the action.
OVERVIEW: The intended beneficiary brought an action for negligence and breach of contract alleging that his father's lawyer failed to draft a will that incorporated the father's actual intent to leave all his land to the intended beneficiary in fee simple. The trial court dismissed the claim and held that a lawyer who drafted a will owed no duty to intended beneficiaries. On appeal, on an issue of first impression, the court reversed and remanded the case.
The court held that although there was no privity between a drafting lawyer and an intended beneficiary, the obvious foreseeability of injury to the beneficiary demanded an exception to the privity rule and that an identified beneficiary had third-party beneficiary status.
The court further held that an intended beneficiary stated a cause of action simply by pleading sufficient facts to establish that an attorney negligently failed to effectuate the testator's intent as expressed to the attorney. The court found no basis for collateral estoppel because a finding of actual intent by the probate court was not necessary for that judgment. The trial court erred in excluding the appraisal values in the probate inventory.
OUTCOME: The court reversed and remanded the decision of the trial court, which issued a direct verdict and summary judgment for a lawyer in the intended beneficiary's action for negligence and breach of contract.
Interested in learning how to get the top grades in your law school classes? Want to learn how to study smarter than your competition? Interested in transferring to a high ranked school?