Several years ago, I drew reciprocal wills for ‘A’ and his wife, an elderly couple. Several weeks ago, I received phone calls from a niece of ‘A’s wife and from a tenant in the building owned by ‘A’ and his wife, in which I was advised that ‘A’s wife had passed away. I was asked to come to see ‘A’ as he was destitute. These phone calls were received on a Friday afternoon. On Friday evening, I went to the house and conferred with the tenant and with ‘A’. ‘A’, who is over eighty, had lucid moments but, for the most part, seemed to be in some state of senility. The tenant advised me that ‘A’s grandson, ‘B’, the son of a predeceased son of ‘A’, with the acquiescence of ‘A’s living son, ‘C’ had induced his grandfather to withdraw all his money from a savings account and give it to ‘B’. The tenant claimed that he had been calling ‘B’ to have him send money for food to ‘A’ but that ‘B’ refused. ‘B’ and ‘C’ are the grandson and son, respectively of ‘A’ and a former wife. The following Monday I received a telephone call from ‘X’ an attorney, who advised me that he was a long time friend of the family and that he had been retained by ‘B’ and ‘C’ to straighten out the affairs of ‘A’ and handle the estate of ‘A’s wife. He advised me that he was going to arrange to have ‘A’ go to live in Italy with relatives of his deceased wife in accordance with ‘A’s desires. He intended to sell the house, and with the proceeds of the sale and the proceeds from the bank account, set up a trust fund to be administered by him whereby he would send monthly payments for ‘A’s, support and maintenance. On the previous Friday evening during what appeared to be a lucid interval, ‘A’ had advised me that he wishes to live in Italy. with his wife’s daughter. The tenant had advised me that ‘B’ and ‘C’ intended to put ‘A’ in a home, Since ‘X’ appeared to be following a proper course of action, I thought nothing further of it.
Yesterday, I received a phone call from two clients wishing to purchase a house, which house turned out to be, coincidentally, the house owned by ‘A’ and his wife. I was given the name of ‘Y’ as the attorney for the seller, I called ‘Y’ and he advised me that the owners of the house are ‘B’ and ‘C’ Upon close questioning, he informed me that ‘A’ deeded the house to ‘B’ and ‘C’. Upon being asked whether he drew up the deed, he advised me that ‘Z’. another attorney had drawn the deed, ‘Y’ stated that he did not know ‘A’s present whereabouts. My clients have heard that ‘A’ is in a home, I then called ‘X’ who advised me that upon arriving at the conclusion that ‘A’ was not of sound mind and that ‘B’ and ‘C’ did not have honorable intentions, he had bowed cut of the picture. I then called ‘Z’ who informed me that he drew up the deed but that it was not executed in his presence and that he had never met ‘A’.
My clients do not yet know of this special knowledge that I have I feel that I must advise them against purchasing this home as there may arise a cloud on the title if some other relative decides to bring an action with regards to the transfer from ‘A’ to ‘B’ and ‘c’ Obviously my clients are going to want to know why I am of the opinion that they should not purchase and I would like to know just how much of the above I can tell them without subjecting myself to an action for slander. This is especially true since all I have are suspicions. Once I tell my clients, if they still desire to go ahead with the purchase, I believe they could no longer be considered Beneficial Purchasers for Value, Also, I do not believe that I can ethically place the search and request for title insurance with a title company, possibly exposing it to a loss under its policy, without advising them of what I know. My last question is in regards to my obligations if any to ‘A’ my former client. What, if any, action should I take in regards to his rights and welfare.
At the outset it should be noted that under the facts as stated, the inquirer’s lawyer-client relationship with ‘A’ terminated several years ago when he drew the wills. It was not re-established when he visited ‘A’ after the death of ‘A’s wife. In consequence, the information he received from the tenant was not confidential in the sense that it arose out of his relationship with ‘A’.
It should further be noted that the information he received may or may not have been reliable and may or may not connote any wrongdoing on the parts of ‘B’ and ‘C’.
Accordingly, the inquirer is free to, and we believe under the circumstances should disclose his information to his clients, the prospective purchasers. If the clients nevertheless desire to proceed with the transaction, the the obligation of the inquirer to disclose the information to the title company involves a determination of the possibility of a fraud being perpetrated on the title company. This, and the possible liability for defamation, are legal question on which the committee does not pass (see, DR 1-102 (A) (4).
Under the facts as stated, the inquirer is under no duty to take any action with respect to the interests of his client ‘A’.
March 19, 1971