In the case of an attorney-client privilege, a natural client’s rights to the confidentiality of the attorney-client relationship generally survive the decedent’s death. However, there are some exceptions to this protection. For example, if a decedent’s executor waives the privilege on behalf of his estate, then it does not apply to the executor’s work on his behalf.
Defendant’s attorney-client privilege survives death
There is no uniform common-law authority on whether a Defendant’s attorney-client privilege survives the death of his or her client. Rather, cases on this issue tend to involve a testamentary exception. In other words, the privilege applies only while the client is alive, even though the attorney may not have been aware of his or her client’s death.
This holding is a rare one because most courts have assumed that the attorney-client privilege survives the death of a client. While there are only a few cases that explicitly address the posthumous application of the privilege, most judicial citations do occur in the context of a well-known exception. Nonetheless, most commentators appear to support some degree of posthumous curtailment of the privilege.
One case on this issue is People v. Modzelewski, where the trial judge barred the attorney of the accused perpetrator’s death from testifying in the trial. The trial judge concluded that the attorney-client privilege did not survive the perpetrator’s death and that the privilege did not apply to exculpating evidence. Ultimately, the ruling, in that case, was based on the defendant’s insufficient offer of proof.
Another case involving this issue involves an insurance company. In this case, a defendant provided consulting services to an insurance corporation. This corporation prohibited him from working for a competing insurance company. His attorneys had discussions with him regarding various matters. Although the attorneys had waived the privilege, the defense was able to use that information against him in their testimony.
Defendant’s attorney-client privilege was waived by the executor
If you are an executor of a decedent’s estate, you may have the power to waive the defendant’s attorney-client privilege. But you must do so in the best interest of the deceased client’s estate and in a manner that won’t damage your reputation.
In this case, the executor was appointed to file the case on behalf of the decedent’s daughter. This decision was made in the estate of the plaintiff’s mother, who passed away in 1993. The executor assigned the plaintiff, the daughter of the decedent, the cause of action for legal malpractice. However, the defendant refused to release the matrimonial file to the plaintiff due to the attorney-client privilege.
The courts have found that this privilege has been waived when the privileged communication is put into question by the party that holds the privilege. For example, in a civil case involving Dershowitz’s wife, the plaintiff is sued because Dershowitz wrote a book about her husband. This book disclosed communications between Dershowitz and the decedent, as well as with other defense counsel. Now, the plaintiff in the civil case wants to publish these communications.
The attorney-client privilege also does not apply to communications that may lead to future fraud or crimes. In fact, in most states, an attorney must disclose the information if it could prevent serious injury or a crime.
Exceptions to attorney-client privilege
Attorney-client privilege continues to apply even after the death of a client. A lawyer may not disclose certain information to a family member unless the client expressly waives the privilege. A personal representative of an estate may waive the privilege if they are concerned about estate protection or estate diminution.
This right is also available to a successor-in-interest. In a probate proceeding, an executor or personal representative may waive the attorney-client privilege after the death of a client. However, it should not be assumed that an executor or personal representative will waive the privilege.
In most states, the attorney-client privilege applies only to communications between the attorney and the client. If a third party witnesses the communication, the privilege does not apply. It is therefore important to understand how the privilege applies to your client. Listed below are some situations when the privilege may not apply.
Attorney-client privilege does not apply to conversations between a client and a lawyer in public places. Nonetheless, you should discuss the scope of attorney-client privilege and the duty of confidentiality with your lawyer. Specifically, ask your lawyer to explain which state’s law applies to your situation.
The attorney-client privilege protects communications between a lawyer and client and prohibits the lawyer from disclosing protected information. This privilege also applies to the attorney’s staff and the client’s assets.