Third-Party Beneficiary Claims

In 2003, Alice Dumville (“Dumville”) met with Thorsen to address her estate planning needs, specifically her last will and testament.  Following the estate planning meeting, Thorsen gathered that Dumville wanted a simple will that would allocate all of her real estate to her mother, should her mother survived her. If her mother– who was in her late seventies at the time– failed to survive her, then Dumville wanted all of her property, including her real estate, her assets, and her three cats, to be willed to the Richmond Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (“RSPCA”). Thorsen constructed the last will and testament, which Dumville executed in April of 2003.

Dumville passed away 2008, her mother having predeceased her. As an executor of the estate during the probate process, Thorsen notified the RSPCA that it was the sole beneficiary of Dumville’s estate. Much to his surprise however, Thorsen received notice that the title insurance company felt the last will and testament left only the tangible estate, and not the real estate, to the RSPCA. Thorsen’s futile attempt to correct the scrivener’s error in the will resulted in the RSPCA receiving only Dumville’s tangible personal property, while her heirs at law received the intangible estate. The RSPCA received $72,016 from the tangible estate, but would have received $675,426 absent the error. The RSPCA then sued Thorsen for breach of contract and professional negligence, as a third-party beneficiary of the contract between Thorsen and Dumville.

Conclusion

The central issue remains: does the RSPCA, as a third-party beneficiary, have legal standing to sue? In other words, is this a legitimate third-party beneficiary claim? In fact, the Circuit Court found not only that the RSPCA had standing, but also that Thorsen was liable for the RSPCA’s damages in the amount of $603,410 as a result of his professional negligence. Thorsen appealed. The Supreme Court of Virginia affirmed that RSPCA was a clearly and definitely identified as the third-party beneficiary, entitling them to the compensation equal to the entirety of Dumville’s estate.

 

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