Disclosure of Confidential Information of a Deceased Client
Opinion rules that a lawyer may disclose the confidential information of a deceased client to the personal representative of the client's estate but not to the heirs of the estate.
Decedent dies with a will that was written four months before his death and which does not provide for his brothers or sisters. The will was filed with the clerk of court in order that it might be probated. Attorney A is still in possession of earlier wills of Decedent. The brothers and sisters have asked Attorney A for copies of these earlier wills. What is Attorney A's ethical obligation in responding to this request?
Attorney A may only disclose confidential information of Decedent to the personal representative of Decedent's estate.
The duty of confidentiality continues after the death of a client. CPR 268 and Comment to Rule 4 of the Rules of Professional Conduct. A lawyer may only reveal confidential information of a deceased client if disclosure is permitted by the exceptions to the duty of confidentiality set forth in Rule 4(c). Specifically, a lawyer may reveal confidential information of a deceased client if the disclosure was impliedly authorized by the client during the client's lifetime as necessary to carry out the goals of the representation. Rule 4(c)(1). It is assumed that a client impliedly authorizes the release of confidential information to the person designated as the personal representative of his estate after his death in order that the estate might be properly and thoroughly administered. Unless the disclosure of confidential information to the personal representative, or a third party at the personal representative's instruction, would be clearly contrary to the goals of the original representation or would be contrary to express instructions given by the client to his lawyer prior to the client's death, the lawyer may reveal a client's confidential information to the personal representative of the client's estate and he may also reveal the deceased client's confidential information to third parties at the direction of the personal representative. To the extent that CPR 268 implies that a lawyer may reveal confidential information of a deceased client to the heirs of a decedent, in addition to the personal representative, CPR 268 is hereby specifically overruled.