The comment to Rule 1.15 states:
Third parties, such as a client's creditors, may have just claims against funds or other property in a lawyer's custody. A lawyer may have a duty under applicable law to protect such third-party claims against wrongful interference by the client, and accordingly, may refuse to surrender the property to the client. However, a lawyer should not unilaterally assume to arbitrate a dispute between the client and the third party.
The obligations of a lawyer under this Rule are independent of those arising from activity other than rendering legal services. For example, a lawyer who serves as an escrow agent is governed by the applicable law relating to fiduciaries even though the lawyer does not render legal services in the transaction.
While the question of whether you assumed a responsibility to act as an escrow agent or to otherwise protect the mortgage company's deficiency is a legal question for your determination, it does not appear to the Committee that you have assumed any such responsibilities.
Therefore, in the absence of legal responsibility to the mortgage company, Rule 1.15 requires that you surrender the funds to the clients.
In making this determination, you may wish to contrast Dayhar v. Grzandziel, 599 A.2d 217, 410 Pa. Super. 85 (1991) where the lawyer, acting with the personal injury client's authorization, agreed to protect the fees of one of the client's medical care providers. Under those circumstances, the client's later withdrawal of his authorization to pay the fees did not negate the lawyer's obligation to the provider. In so holding, the Supreme Court noted that Rule 1.15 would have permitted the lawyer to withhold sufficient funds to protect the provider's fees.