September 14, 2011
When Fred Disinherited Sheila
The New Jersey Supreme Court has reprimanded an attorney who drafted a will for a "friend and longtime client" (Fred), which made the attorney's wife the beneficiary if the testatator's mother precedeased him. The attorney also drafted a will for the client's mother that left her entire estate to Fred and expressly disinherited her daughter Sheila.
Mother died unexpectedly and Fred passed away unexpectedly "just a few months later." As a result, the attorney's wife inherited $1.3 million.
The complainant in the bar case, as one might expect, was Sheila. The Disciplinary Review Board found her complaint "rife with unsubstantiated allegations of wrongdoing...In essense, [she] complained that respondent and his wife... wheedled their way, over a twenty-year friendship with her brother, into his last will and testament and that of her mother."
The DRB concluded that a reprimand was a sufficient sanction for the attorney's "imprudent action" because Fred was closer to the attorney's wife than to Sheila, the wife was only a contingent beneficiary and "had any other attorney prepared Fred's will in the exact manner as respondent did, [respondent's wife] would likely have received everything in any event."
Sheila sued and got 55% of the estate. The attorney's wife (who had met Fred through her work) ended up with about $600,000.
Two DRB member recommended censure. One would suspend the attorney for three months. The District Ethics committee had proposed a five-year suspension.
The attorney has practiced for 30 years without blemish. (Mike Frisch)
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