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A disappointed beneficiary of a testamentary trust may proceed against the testatrix's lawyer on a contract theory over an objection that the lawyer's promise obligated him only to the client and not to the intended beneficiary, because the benefit to the plaintiff also was the essence of the benefit.
Defendant Robert Groce an attorney who was directed by a client to prepare testamentary instruments and to include a bequest of a specified sum to plaintiff Constance Hale. After the client's death, it was discovered that the gift was not included either in the will or in a related trust instrument. Plaintiff brought the present malpractice action for damages against the defendant after an unsuccessful attempt to obtain judicial reformation of the will and trust. The complaint alleged as two separate claims, first, that defendant was negligent in a number of particulars and, second, that he failed to carry out a contractual promise to his client. Defendant moved to dismiss the complaint on grounds that the stated facts did not constitute a claim under either for negligence or for breach of contract and that, at least as to the tort theory, the action was not commenced within the time limited by the applicable statute. The circuit court held that the action was not time-barred but allowed defendant's motion to dismiss both claims. The court of appeals reversed the trial court’s order reinstating plaintiff's negligence claim, and also remanded for trial the plaintiff’s allegations that defendant was estopped from invoking the statute of limitations on the tort claim. Both parties filed a petition for review of the court of appeals decision. Plaintiff sought reinstatement of her contract claim as a third-party beneficiary.
Should plaintiff’s contract claim as third-party beneficiary be reinstated?
The court affirmed in part and reversed in part and held that the complaint stated claims for damages under both theories, a claim as the intended beneficiary of the attorney's professional contract with the client and a derivative tort claim based on breach of the duty created by that contract to the beneficiary as its intended beneficiary. Thus, the court affirmed the dismissal of the plaintiff’s contract claim. However, the court affirmed the court of appeal’s decision to leave to the trial court the plaintiff’s allegations that the defendant waived the time limit for the negligence claim or was estopped to assert it.