Attorney Liable to Third-Party Beneficiary of Will for Legal Malpractice

Virginia's highest court rules that an intended third-party beneficiary of a will may sue the attorney who drafted the will for legal malpractice. Thorsen v. Richmond Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Va., No. 150528, June 2, 2016).

Alice Dumville hired attorney James Thorsen to draft her will to leave her estate to her mother and, if her mother predeceased her, to the Richmond Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA). Ms. Dumville's mother predeceased her. After Ms. Dumville died, Mr. Thorsen notified the RSPCA that it was the sole beneficiary, but the title insurance company informed Mr. Thorsen that the will left only tangible property, not real estate, to the RSPCA.

Mr. Thorsen sought in court to have the will interpreted to leave everything to the RSPCA, but the court determined that the will left only tangible personal property to the RSPCA. The RSPCA sued Mr. Thorsen for legal malpractice. Mr. Thorsen acknowledged that the will did not reflect Ms. Dumville's intentions, but he argued that the RSPCA could not sue for malpractice because it was a third-party beneficiary of the will. The trial court found for the RSPCA, and Mr. Thorsen appealed. 

The Virginia Supreme Court affirms, holding that Mr. Thorsen is liable to the RSPCA as a third-party beneficiary to Ms. Dumville's will. The court rules that clearly identifiable third-party beneficiaries can sue for legal malpractice and there is sufficient evidence "to conclude that [Ms.] Dumville clearly and definitely intended the RSPCA to be a third-party beneficiary of the contract." One justice dissents, arguing that third-party beneficiaries should not have standing to sue.

For the full text of this decision, go to: http://cases.justia.com/virginia/supreme-court/2016-150528.pdf?ts=1464885278

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