Probate Solicitor Struck Off For Systematically Overcharging Clients
Experienced solicitor, Keith Smart, boasting over 40 years’ experience, has been struck off by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) and the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) for excessively overcharging probate clients £168,771 Between 2016 and May 2018.
The 19-month spree of dishonesty is said to have occurred after an experienced credit controller left Kevin Smart’s law firm, Kevin Smart & Co.
The first significant over charging of a client occurred between 2nd August 2016 and February 2017, when Kevin Smart charged £72,062.50 excluding VAT to administer AWD’s estate.
Horrifically, following an SRA investigation the total costs of administration including VAT and disbursements was reduced to £1,297.50. Since the initial overcharging of AWD’s estate by 70,765, a further five estates suffered similar fates.
On 9th November 2017, the probate client, CM, was charged £40,066, excluding VAT for the firm’s costs in relation of the estate. Following the SRA investigation, the revised total costs of the estate including all fees and disbursements amounted to £4,057.50, an overcharge of £36,009.
The remaining estates were overcharged between £5,942 and £31,447.
The judgement also found that once the forensic investigation officers (FIO) started questioning Kevin Smart, he misled the investigators on three separate occasions including a meeting in February 2018, a letter from March 2018 and during an interview in April 2018. The deceit included Mr Smart claiming that he had sent a detailed list of costs to CM when he had actually failed to do so.
Kevin Smart appears repentant for the overcharging of the estates and had already replaced the shortage in the probate estates of CM and MJP by returning over £77,000 before May 2018.
Whilst he is yet to replace the shortfalls in the remaining estates, during mitigation Mr Smart ‘apologised profoundly for his actions and wishes to express his sincere apologies to those affected.’
Kevin Smart has officially been struck off and ordered to pay SRA costs of £20,151
The SDT judgement stated:
“These were serious acts of dishonesty. “The overcharging of clients was committed over an extended period of time and which benefitted the Respondent [Smart] to the detriment of the executors and beneficiaries of the probate estates.
“The misleading of the Forensic Investigation Officer was on three separate occasions during the investigation and it was in order to conceal that the Respondent hadn’t sent bills of costs to the executor or discussed costs with him.
“The Respondent’s misconduct is at the highest level.”
How concerning are incidents like this the Wills, Probate and Estate Planning sector?