In N.Y. what happens to the records & archives when an attorney dies? I would like to obtain a closing statementon a property sold 30 yrs ago.
Country relating to Question: United States
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Surprisingly, there are no specific requirements in New York mandating an attorney to take steps to protect his/her clients and their files in the event of death. Some appoint caretaker attorneys to handle their affairs, especially if solo practioners, while if part of a firm, the firm itself will go through files and notify clients. If a lawyer did neither, then it would fall upon the family to take possession of the files who may or may not know the requirements for disposing of them.
With respect to client files in past decisions rendered by the New York State Bar Association to attorneys, they have stated that "Where a file has been closed, except to the extent that the law may require otherwise, all documents belonging to the lawyer may be destroyed without consultation or notice to the client in the absence of extraordinary circumstances manifesting a client's clear and present need for such documents. Cf., e.g., N.Y. State 398 (1975); N.Y. City 1986-4 (1986). Absent a legal requirement or extraordinary circumstances, the lawyer's only obligation with respect to such documents is to preserve Confidentiality. See DR 4-101(B)(1) and (D); also see EC 4-4, EC 4-6."
Furthermore, they state that: "With respect to documents that belong to the client, as a first step of general application, the lawyer should offer to make them available to the client. Preferably, that offer should be in writing and announce the lawyer's intent to dispose of the file. If the client fails to respond within a reasonable period of time or cannot be contacted (after reasonable efforts to do so have been undertaken by the lawyer), the lawyer may dispose of the file, including such documents as may belong to the client, subject to the qualifications and procedures hereinafter discussed.
If the lawyer has no reason to believe there are either any documents contained in the file that either the lawyer or the client is required by law to maintain or any documents that the client would foreseeably need to establish substantial personal or property rights (documents in need of salvaging, hereinafter collectively referred to as "DINS"), and the client fails to respond or provide instructions to the lawyer within a reasonable period of time, the file may be destroyed without further action on the part of the lawyer. In destroying the file, the lawyer should use means that will reasonably assure that whatever confidential material may be contained therein will not be compromised. See e.g., DR 4-101(B)(1) and (D); EC 4-6."
So, given that the file was from 30 years ago, there's a very good chance that it doesn't exist anymore, even if you could find what happend to the files.
If the lawyer who passed was part of a firm, you may want to contact the firm and see if they have any information as to what happened to his/her files. If this was a solo practioner, or you cannot otherwise find out any other information, you may want to call the New York Bar Association and see if they can give you any information at all. Their number is(NNN) NNN-NNNN
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