Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Legal Professional Privilege** in adviser facilitated estate planning

A question came up recently from a financial planning licensee about whether an adviser attending an estate planning meeting between a client and their lawyer inadvertently waives the client’s legal professional privilege over those estate planning discussions.

As mentioned in last week’s post, legal professional privilege protects communications between a client and their lawyer from third parties, if the communications are brought into existence for the dominant purpose of obtaining legal advice. However, legal professional privilege over communications between a lawyer and a client can be waived if the information is disclosed to a third party.

Broadly we confirmed that we do not believe legal professional privilege is particularly relevant in the context of most estate planning discussions with clients. In particular, the advice generally provided to the client in a meeting is unlikely to be of the nature that legal professional privilege would need to be claimed. Furthermore, the legal documents (i.e. the final wills and powers of attorney) themselves are not generally privileged.

Indeed, in an adviser facilitated estate planning scenario, the client will have, in most cases, already disclosed most (if not all) of the information that will be discussed in the online meeting to the adviser as part of the initial fact finding process before the lawyer commences the legal aspects of the estate planning exercise.

We therefore believe that the risk of any implied waiver of legal professional privilege by having a client’s adviser sitting through the online meeting with the client is low and it would be an unnecessary step looking to avoid having the adviser attend the online meeting.

As most readers will be aware, our strong preference is to have the adviser attend the meeting as, generally speaking, their insights about the appropriateness of the estate planning strategy for the client’s family and financial circumstances is highly valuable.

** For the trainspotters, last week I mentioned that ‘privilege on privilege’ is a line from one of my favourite privilege related songs, from the Church and their 1986 album Heyday, namely ‘Myrrh’. Based on further research, this song is not simply one of my favourite privilege related songs, it is the only decent song I can find, thus listen again.