Question: My mother died a few years ago. I asked her lawyer for information about her life insurance decisions – who she named as beneficiary, when she completed paperwork, etc. The lawyer refused to give me any information. Does he have to?
Answer: Take no offense. The lawyer is bound by attorney client privilege rules, to maintain confidentiality – even after your mother’s death. Only the personal representative of her estate can waive this privilege, and authorize the lawyer to give you information.
The American Bar Association recalls how this rule was famously laid out in a Supreme Court decision from 1998 dealing with the Clinton Whitewater investigation. White house counsel, Vince Foster met with a private lawyer nine days before committing suicide. Whitewater investigators vigorously sought a subpoena for the Lawyer’s handwritten notes. But the Court maintained attorney-client privilege despite Foster’s death.
A more local famous case involved Charles Stuart, who consulted with a lawyer shortly before killing his wife. The Commonwealth demanded Stuart’s lawyer testify before the grand jury. However, the court rejected this request, because Stuart’s mother (also his Estate’s Administrator) refused to waive the privilege.