Friday, January 31, 2020
The New York State Bar Association released an ethics opinion on January 23 stating that a lawyer who possessed more than 500 wills could not dispose of the documents but in fact must retain the documents "indefinitely." Many of the wills had testators that could not be located, and even some were created more than 70 years ago.
Many of the documents were obtained from acquired law practices that had themselves obtained the wills from acquired practices. The lawyer has been unable to find the testators, executors or even beneficiaries through a diligent search of office records, the internet and the county surrogate’s court.
The ethics opinion sums up its advice this way: “A lawyer may not dispose of wills, whose testators’ locations and/or circumstances are unknown. The wills constitute property, and the lawyer must safeguard the wills indefinitely unless the law affords the lawyer an avenue to file or otherwise dispose of the wills.”
See Debra Cassens Weiss, Lawyer Who Can't Find Testators for Over 500 Wills Can't Toss Documents, Ethics Opinion Says, ABA Journal, January 27, 2020.