Tuesday, October 3, 2023
The Wyoming Supreme Court affirmed the dismissal of a legal malpractice claim
Michael Lee Schlegel (Michael) and Charlene Ann Schlegel (Charlene) were in the process of divorcing when Michael died of a heart attack without a known will. Under the intestacy statute, Charlene inherited portions of Michael’s estate that she would not have, had the divorce been finalized prior to Michael’s death. Taran Michael Schlegel (Taran), Michael’s only living child, filed a legal malpractice suit against his father’s attorney, Shelby Noel Hughes, and her law firm, Barney & Graham, LLC, for failing to timely resolve Michael’s divorce. The district court granted Ms. Hughes and Barney & Graham, LLC’s motion for summary judgment. It found no evidence was presented that Taran was an intended beneficiary of his father’s attorney’s services, and thus no duty was owed to Taran. We affirm.
Michael and Charlene married three times and divorced two times between 1999 and 2017. They separated for the third time in June 2018, after having remarried a year earlier. Michael had two sons, Taran and Kalen, from a different relationship. Kalen predeceased Michael, but had two children, still minors at the time of Michael’s death. There was no love lost between Taran and his stepmother, Charlene. Taran encouraged Michael on multiple occasions to divorce Charlene.
The defendant was an associate attorney with the law firm. She had filed the divorce, a hearing was held, and a final hearing was scheduled to resolve a remaining issue when
On February 23, 2020, Michael died of a heart attack, with no known will. Despite physical ailments due to Michael’s stroke, his death was unexpected.
The issue here is whether the child was an "intended beneficiary" of the attorney's services
The question today is whether Taran was an intended beneficiary of Michael’s divorce proceedings. We find he was not. To do so would require facts showing the divorce proceedings were intended to serve as an estate-planning device. There is no evidence in the record to support this.
Plaintiff thus lacked standing to pursue a legal malpractice claim. (Mike Frisch)