AdminDuty of Care to Produce Documents – A reminder on White v Jones

As soon as you have accepted instructions from your clients, you have a duty of care to keep time delays to a minimum and to produce the final documents. As part of our process, we issue draft documents and request that you respond to us within 10 working days to ensure a fast turnaround for the clients.

If cases are kept open for long periods of time without the final documents being produced, there is a risk of this being deemed as negligent should the client die or lose capacity before the will is signed.

The case White v Jones [1995] highlights this problem. As a brief overview; the client, Mr White contacted his solicitor, Mr Jones, in relation to changing his Will.  His current Will had excluded his daughters due to family disputes. Mr White had now reconciled his differences with his daughters and wished to change his Will to make provision for them. Mr Jones took Mr White’s instructions and more than 40 days later still without the Will being produced, Mr White died.

The daughters took legal action against Mr Jones on the grounds of causing loss to a disappointed beneficiary (the current Will excluding them remained in place). Mr Jones was found negligent and held liable because of the loss, with a breach of the duty of care due to the time from the instructions being taken and no further progress until Mr White’s death.

Many of our partners will have noticed that within the past few weeks, we have begun to request more regular updates where we have not received a response within 10 working days of sending the draft documents. We understand that some clients will need longer to confirm draft documents for various reasons, but it is important that we are kept informed of any expected delays and the reasons why.

Regular updates from the clients to you, and you to us, allows us to keep our files up to date with the current circumstances and we can handle the case appropriately. Ultimately regular updates with the client will ensure that we have some protection in the event of a sudden death or loss of capacity of the client.

Chris Rattigan-Smith