This is another chapter in the long-running battle between beneficiaries of estates and estate planning attorneys. For much of the 19th century if a lawyer made an error in the drafting of an estate planning document, the intended beneficiary could not sue for legal malpractice because the intended beneficiary was not “in privity” with the lawyer. The words “in privity” meant that the intended beneficiary did not have a direct attorney-client relationship with the lawyer. (Of course, in most estate planning matters, the only person with an attorney-client relationship is deceased by the time the error is discovered).
The privity rule was extremely beneficial to attorneys because it meant that they could rarely be sued for legal malpractice. In recent years, courts have chipped away at the privity rule. The courts have acted from the obvious concern that the lawyer who makes a mistake depriving a beneficiary of an inheritance should not be able to hide behind a technicality to escape liability.
In this case, the plaintiff was the Richmond Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals or RSPCA. RSPCA alleged that there was an error in the drafting of a will and the error caused it to lose an expected inheritance of real property.