Relatives can sue over undrafted will

Click to follow
Solicitors who fail to follow instructions to draw up a will before a client dies can be sued for compensation by relatives disinherited by the error, the Law Lords ruled yesterday.

Dozens of people who allege they were disinherited because of their solicitor's negligence may now take legal action.

The judgment extends the traditional "duty of care" owed by a solicitor to his client, to include beneficiaries of a will.

Yesterday's case referred to a Birmingham man, Arthur Barratt, and his family. Mr Barratt's wife died in January 1986, and he fell out with his two daughters over money she had left. In March he made a will leaving everything to other relatives. By June, they had made up, and he asked his solicitor to make a new will, leaving the daughters £9,000 each. In July he wrote a letter giving instructions.

The solicitor did not turn up to three appointments with Mr Barratt, who went on holiday in August. Mr Barratt, then 78, fell and injured his head while on holiday, had a heart attack when he returned and died on 14 September, with the will unmade.

The family could not agree how to divide the estate, the old will stood, and the daughters sued for negligence. The High Court ruled against the sisters but the Court of Appeal ruled in their favour, saying they were entitled to £9,000 each in compensation from the solicitor.

Upholding that decision yesterday, Lord Goff of Chieveley said there was a gap in the law in that practical justice required that the disappointed beneficiaries should have a remedy against the solicitor although they had no contract with him.

It was right, therefore, for the Lords to introduce a remedy by "holding that the assumption of responsibility by the solicitor towards his client should be held in law to extend to the intended beneficiary who . . . may as a result of the solicitor's negligence, be deprived of his intended legacy."

Law report, page 13