Friday, July 14, 2017

Attorney-Executor Sells Estate Property To His Spouse At A Bargain And Bargains For A Six-Month Suspension

An attorney who had drafted estate documents appointing himself as executor and on the client's passing  had proceeded to sell estate property to his own spouse at a bargain price has accepted a six-month suspension by the New Jersey Supreme Court.

According to a letter of the Disciplinary Review Board, he failed to notify residuary beneficiary St. Mary's Church.

Respondent obtained three appraisals on [deceased client] Berry’s residence as follows: (i) from David Bossart in the amount of $90,000, (2) from Timothy Piso in the amount of $175,000, and (3) from Stuart Appraisal Company in the amount of $275,000. David Bossart was not an MAI appraiser, as was required by the will.

And that appraisal brought down the price

Respondent averaged the three appraisals to arrive at $180,000 as the purchase price, and then sold the property, for that amount, to his wife, by deed dated February 4, 2015. Respondent was familiar with the property, having grown up in the area. He also was aware that the tax-assessed value of the property was $407,800 and the ratio of assessed to true value was less than 100%. Respondent never conferred with the residuary beneficiary, St. Mary’s Church, regarding the sales price. Respondent had previously informed neither Berry of his interest in purchasing the property, nor the residuary beneficiary of his interest, after Berry’s death. Prior to Berry’s death, however, he had expressed to third parties his interest in purchasing the property.

Respondent returned the property to the Berry estate only after St. Mary’s Church learned of the sale to respondent’s wife and after Boyd filed a grievance. On September 28, 2015, he transferred the property to St. Mary’s Church, which entered into a contract of sale for $569,000, several weeks later, following a bidding war.

As is usual, the DRB studies the depressing landscape of sanctions for comparable cases but finds enough bad stuff to suspend

Respondent is a former deputy surrogate for Morris County, responsible for overseeing estate administrations and litigated matters with respect to estates and guardianships in the Superior Court. Thus, he has specialized knowledge in the area of estate administration and certainly should have known better than to engage in such deceitful conduct. Respondent engaged in a longterm scheme to obtain his client’s property. The record suggests that he coveted this property for some time. Respondent’s conduct as a whole, is far more egregious than that of Hurd. Based on the totality of the circumstances, including the mitigating and aggravating factors, the Board determined that a six-month suspension is warranted for respondent’s misconduct.

That's still more than light for this misconduct. (Mike Frisch)

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