Helpful Tips for Avoiding Negligence Claims for Estates and Trusts Lawyers
I came across an interesting article in the September edition of “Risky Business”, the magazine published by LawPro, the liability insurer for lawyers in Ontario. The article details the various “malpractice hazards” which arise in various practice areas.
In the area of wills & estates, the types of claims lawyers face appear increasingly influenced by the demographics of the population. Specifically, with the aging population, LawPRO sees an increased risk of claims arising because of issues related to a client’s capacity. In addition, the number of elderly individuals with large estates just increases the incentive that families will have to fight and the potential that those disputes will entangle the lawyer who did the estate planning.
LawPRO makes the following suggestions of ways to reduce the risk of a claim:
a) Be on the lookout for signs of undue influence. In situations where the client is making drastic changes to his or her will, explore who is benefitting from the changes and what has motivated the client to make them;
b) Make sure to meet with the client alone to ensure that the client understands the legal implications of what he or she is instructing you to do and is making decisions freely;
c) Clarify who you are acting for and taking instructions from so as to ensure there is no conflict of interest. This is particularly important when your initial contact is not with the client but rather with a family member of the client; and
d) Make sure to satisfy yourself about your client’s mental capacity and, just as importantly, make sure to document what enquiries you made in case your client’s capacity is later challenged.
When litigation over an estate occurs, the reasons are frequently unrelated to the lawyer who did the estate planning. However, angry beneficiaries don’t always feel that way. It is always a good idea for a lawyer doing estate planning to ensure that he or she will be protected in the future if issues involving the will or the client’s capacity arise.