Thursday, December 9, 2010
C.A. Throws Out Legal Malpractice Claim by Prospective Will Beneficiary
By STEVEN M. ELLIS, Staff Writer
A lawyer who drafted a will had no duty to a prospective beneficiary until the will was actually executed, this district’s Court of Appeal ruled yesterday.
Div. Four tossed a malpractice suit against Los Angeles attorney Lawrence Kalfayan, reasoning that imposing liability would exceed the bounds of an attorney’s duty to nonclients.
Carlyle Hall sued Kalfayan for negligence, alleging that the lawyer’s failure to timely perform his duties deprived Hall from inheriting the majority of his friend’s estate.
Hall, who served as conservator for Alexandra Turner, would have inherited Turner’s estate pursuant to discussions she had with Kalfayan, who represented Turner as a probate volunteer panel attorney. However, Hall took nothing when Turner died without having executed the new estate plan.
Hall requested a conservatorship for Turner, who he had known for over 30 years, in 2002 after she became increasingly reclusive, failed to clean up when her dog relieved himself in her condominium, and exhibited signs of dementia.
Kalfayan, who was appointed to represent Turner, confirmed that her lengthy relationship with Hall was positive, and recommended that Hall be appointed conservator after Turner rejected the appointment of her only living relatives: a niece and two younger adopted siblings from whom Turner was estranged.
In 2004, Hall’s counsel, Seal Beach attorney Sean Higgins, told Kalfayan that Hall wanted to bring a petition to prepare and obtain court approval of an estate plan for Turner. Kalfayan met with Turner, where she allegedly told him that she wanted Hall to inherit her estate, and that neither her niece, Priscilla Waring, nor any other family members should get anything.
During the course of meetings with Kalfayan, Turner later indicated that she wanted Hall to take “more than half” of her estate and for Waring to take “a little less than half.”
Kalfayan eventually prepared a will and sought court approval, but Waring objected. She gave Kalfayan the name of her aunt’s former attorney, who provided Kalfayan with copies of estate plans Turner and her ex-husband had previously executed. The probate court in June 2007 denied the request to approve the new plan after Kalfayan could not locate parties whose interests under the old plan might be affected by the change.
Turner died two months later and Hall ended up with nothing, while Turner’s niece, the children of her former husband and her adopted siblings all became involved in litigation over the estate. Hall sued Kalfayan for malpractice, but Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Irving Shimer ruled that Kalfayan owed no duty to Hall.
‘Clear Delineation’ Needed
The Court of Appeal affirmed that decision in an opinion by Presiding Justice Norman L. Epstein. Writing that there was need “for a clear delineation of an attorney’s duty to nonclients,” the justice said that Hall was only a potential beneficiary absent an executed testamentary document, and that Kalfayan therefore owed him no duty of care.
Epstein commented that the conclusion was “particularly appropriate” where Turner had not expressed a desire to have a new will prepared and had only limited conversation with Kalfayan about the disposition of her estate. He also noted that extending Kalfayan’s duty to potential beneficiaries of the estate would expose Kalfayan to liability to Waring, whose share of the estate would have been reduced.
“This is precisely the type of unreasonable burden on an attorney that militates against expanding duty to potential beneficiaries,” the justice wrote.
Justices Nora M. Manella and Steven C. Suzukawa joined Epstein in his opinion.
The case is Hall v. Kalfayan, B220320.
Copyright 2010, Metropolitan News Company