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Crime-Fraud Exception to Attorney-Client Privilege


Attorney-client privilege is one of the most important legal doctrines in the U.S. It allows people to be open and honest with their attorneys without fear that the attorney can later be forced to use any information obtained against the client. This doctrine even has an important place in estate planning.

To properly plan an estate a client needs to be able to tell the attorney what his assets are. The client would not be willing to do so if the attorney could later be forced to testify in a different legal dispute about those assets.

However, there are exceptions to attorney-client privilege as the Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog reports in "Treasure-Hunter's Documents Might Be in Deep Water."

In the case discussed, a former treasure hunter hired an attorney to create an offshore trust. The client then got financing for an expedition in which he recovered gold from a sunken ship. However, he refused to pay the people who had financed his treasure hunt.

They are asking the judge to force the attorney to reveal the trust documents so that they will have an easier time recovering the money.

The judge in the case, while not making a decision, has acknowledged that the crime-fraud exception to attorney-client privilege might apply in this case. In other words, if the attorney's services are knowingly used to commit a crime or a fraud, attorney-client privilege does not apply.

Reference: Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog (Nov. 17, 2016) "Treasure-Hunter's Documents Might Be in Deep Water

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