The Virginia State Bar is seeking public comment on a proposed advisory legal ethics opinion dealing with the duty to disclose the death of a client.
The opinion, proposed advisory Legal Ethics Opinion 1900, addresses whether and in what circumstances a lawyer must disclose that their client has died during the representation.
Proposed LEO 1900 concluded that attorneys must disclose a client’s death to opposing counsel “before any further substantive communication” takes place. If the case is before a court, proposed LEO 1900 concludes the attorney must inform the court of the client’s death “no later than the next communication with, or appearance before, the court.”
The opinion also overrules LEO 952, a 1987 legal ethics opinion which concluded that a lawyer could accept a settlement offer without disclosing the death of their client, unless there was a direct inquiry about the client’s health. In LEO 952, attorneys were advised to disclose the death of a client when accepting the offer “to avoid an appearance of impropriety.”
“The committee concludes that a lawyer cannot accept an offer of settlement on behalf of a deceased client, even if the lawyer discloses the client’s death at the same time,” proposed LEO 1900 states.
Persons, businesses and other entities may submit comments on proposed LEO 1900 to the Virginia State Bar by emailing VSB Executive Director Cameron Rountree at [email protected]. The VSB will accept comments until May 1.