Solicitor leaves profession over bequest from client

Will: Client knew what she was doing, said solicitor

A veteran solicitor who failed to ensure that his client took independent legal advice before leaving him money in her will has agreed to leave the profession.

Stuart Quail Murphy is remove himself from the roll – which he joined in 1981 – to forestall proceedings before the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal.

The 65-year-old was a sole practitioner in West Byfleet, Surrey until September 2018 and retired from practice last August.

A regulatory settlement agreement reached with the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) recorded that, in 1996, Mr Murphy acted for a Mrs C in preparing her will.

He had acted in the probate and administration of her husband’s estate earlier that year. Mrs C appointed him as a co-executor and left him 5% of the residue of her estate.

Mr Murphy advised Mrs C to obtain independent legal advice on this but failed to ensure she did so before signing the will.

The solicitor subsequently acted for Mrs C in amending and making new wills on several occasions over the next 15 years, and failed to advise her again of the need to take independent legal advice each time.

In January 2017, Mrs C died, aged 90 and Mr Murphy administered her estate together with her co-executors. In 2018, under a deed of variation, Mr Murphy gave his share under Mrs C’s Will – which amounted to £43,363 – to his two children.

The SRA referred Mr Murphy to the tribunal last September.

Mr Murphy admitted failing either to advise Mrs C to take independent legal advice or ensure that she had taken it, in breach of SRA rules.

In mitigation, he said Mrs C decided to leave him the legacy as gratitude for the work he had done in dealing with her husband’s estate. She instructed him because he was a local solicitor.

He said he did not check to ensure Mrs C had taken independent advice “as she was a very bright individual even into her later years and she usually followed his advice”.

The mitigation continued: “He did not take advantage of Mrs C and the initiative for the gift came from her. He had no influence over her in any way. He had some idea of the value of her estate and thought in 1996 that 5% of the residual estate could be worth up to £10,000.

“He can’t recall how significant he thought it was at the time, but he did think it relevant that she did not have any children or close relatives. The residual beneficiaries included her godson and friends.”

He did not want any objections from Mrs C’s family or friends and so he advised her to discuss the grant with the executors and beneficiaries.

“The subsequent amendments to the wills over the years were at the behest of Mrs C, who would come into his office with marked-up versions of the changes that she required to the will. In every will she included him as a beneficiary despite making changes to the residual beneficiaries over the years. The amount due to him did not change… Mrs C was very aware of the content of her will.”

Mr Murphy has applied to remove his name from the roll of solicitors and undertook not to seek restoration. He was also fined £2,000.

“The SRA considers that the undertakings given in this agreement constitute a proportionate outcome to these proceedings in light of Mr Murphy’s admissions and mitigation,” the agreement said.

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