Solicitor’s Conduct Questioned After Becoming Beneficiary
After becoming a beneficiary of a client’s Will, which saw him inherit over £43,000, retired solicitor Stuart Murphy has now been fined for poor conduct with regards to the way he dealt with his client.
According to a Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) report, Mr Murphy first acted for his client ‘Mrs C’ in September 1996, when he dealt with the probate and administration of her deceased husband’s estate.
Mrs C, aged 70 at this point, instructed Mr Murphy in December 1996 to help her draft her Will. This however wouldn’t be the final version, but one of many drafted by Mr Murphy.
Upon making her first Will, Mrs C appointed Mr Murphy as her co-executor and left him a 5% residue of her estate.
The SRA found that Mr Murphy advised Mrs C to get independent legal advice prior to signing the Will if she wanted these stipulations included. However, he did not ensure this was done before Mrs C put pen to paper.
Mr Murphy retired from practicing in August 2019. However, his actions were referred to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal on 11th September 2019, and attended a hearing in December 2019.
The hearing heard how Mr Murphy drafted a total of 5 versions of Mrs C’s Wills over a 15 year period. Over this time, he failed in his duty to advise Mrs C to take independent legal advice as he was still listed as a beneficiary.
The hearing also heard how all of the subsequent Wills after the 1996 Will were only witnessed by Mr Murphy’s secretaries.
Mrs C passed away in January 2017, and Mr Murphy administered her estate as set out in her Will.
In 2018, he gave the money he received (£43,363.82) to his two children.
At his tribunal, Mr Murphy admitted that on multiple occasions he failed to advise or ensure that Mrs C took independent legal advice, but continued to act for her, which breached professional conduct.
Putting forward mitigation for himself, the retired solicitor claimed that his client had decided to leave him the 5% estate residue “as gratitude for the work he had done in dealing with her husband’s estate”.
Mr Murphy reiterated that he “did not take advantage” of Mrs C and that the idea came from her, adding that he did have some idea of the value of her estate and thought in 1996 that it could be worth up to £10,000.
Mr Murphy also disclosed to the hearing, that as a result of Mrs C not having any children or close relatives, she made provisions for 12 beneficiaries in her Will which included her godson, friends and acquaintances.
As a result of his poor conduct, Mr Murphy made an application to remove his name from the roll of solicitors and was also fined £2,000.
He agreed to pay the costs of the investigation, including legal costs, which totalled £1,130.