Do You Legally Know What Your Attorney Knows?

Robert Ray

Introduction

An attorney is an agent for the person (principal) that he represents. Agency law imputes the knowledge of the agent to the principal. If an agent knows something, the law says that the principal knows it as well.

Facts

An interesting case out of Ohio had the question of do you legally know what your attorney knows come up in relation to a will contest. In Ohio, if you don’t disclose a will within a year, your inheritance is void. In the case, the appellants contested a will based on testamentary capacity. They won the case and the will was not admitted to probate. However, during the trial, the appellees’ attorney testified about a prior will of the decedent. (People appealing a case are the appellants. They appeal the case against the appellees.) That prior will would be admitted to probate. The appellants attempted to void the gifts to the appellees in the prior will because they had not disclosed the prior will within a year after the death of the testator.

In order to deny the appellees their property, the appellants were required to produce evidence that the appellees : (1) knew of the existence of the prior will for one year after the testator’s death; (2) had the power to control the will; and (3) without reasonable cause, intentionally concealed or neglected to offer the will to probate within that year. R.C. 2107.10(A). The appellees’ attorney was aware of the prior will because he had represented the decedent and had prepared both wills. The appellants argued that because the appellee’s attorney knew of the prior will, they (appellees) knew of the prior will and their part of the will should be voided because they did not produce it within one year. The trial court ruled against the appellants and they appealed. They argued that the appellees had “imputed knowledge” of the prior will because their attorney had knowledge of the prior will.

Do You Legally Know What Your Attorney Knows

The appeals court was asked to determine if the appellees’ attorney’s knowledge of the prior will should be imputed to the appellees so that their inheritance should be void. The appeals court also ruled against the appellants. It said “Attorney Neuman’s knowledge of the will had some ultimate impact on appellants, they (appellees) can only be bound by or charged with knowledge of information received “in the course of or within the scope of his employment.”” “(A) client will not be affected by notice or knowledge of facts acquired by an attorney while acting on behalf of another client.” Since the knowledge of the prior will was gained when the attorney was representing the decedent ,not appellees, the knowledge was not imputed to the appellees. McNelis v. Crain, No. 2016-T-0065.

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The Author

Robert Ray

Robert Ray handles inheritance disputes of all kinds. He takes cases throughout Texas.
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