Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

Editor: Gerry W. Beyer
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Friday, August 19, 2005

More on "Dear Abby" Letter

Several days ago, I discussed potential professional responsibility issues raised by a recent Dear Abby column.

I recently received some insightful commentary about these issues from Howard Zaritsky, one of the nation's leading estate planning practitioners and a prolific author.  Here is an excerpt from his comments:

I noted that the only thing that the letter writer (wife) was told by the lawyer was that the documents had been executed.

Disclosing this may breach confidentiality, but I suspect that the lawyer's secretary may have been the culprit, merely telling the wife that her husband had already come in to sign the documents.  Of course, that does not get the lawyer off the hook, but it would be a pretty ordinary scenario.

I also raise the following questions:
    First, did the attorney represent both spouses?  It appears from the letter that the attorney represented only the husband, in which case I would question whether the attorney should even have confirmed that the husband was a client.

    Second, what steps has the attorney taken to assure that staff do not reveal any information about clients -- especially to clients' family members.  Our office had a policy that any questions from someone who was not the actual client himself or herself had to be referred to the attorney, even if they seemed benign.  Just revealing that the husband had signed instruments was enough to create a problem in the Dear Abby letter.

    Third, isn't this exactly why common law dower gave widows a life estate in the residence?


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