A solicitor who overcharged a deceased client’s estate by £35,000 and sold his house to a company owned by a trust of which she was a beneficiary has been struck off.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) heard that it also took almost four years after the client’s death for Mayuri Nitin Shah to tell the Wallace Collection that it was a beneficiary of his estate, and she did not mention it was the residuary beneficiary for another three years.
As well as being a charity, the Wallace Collection, a well-known art collection based in central London, is a non-departmental public body of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. Its trustees are appointed by the prime minister.
Ms Shah, sole owner of Linklaw Solicitors in North-West London, admitted acting as both conveyancer and co-executor in the sale of Mr SC’s house in 2016 to two companies, EDL and Boscola when she had an interest in the latter.
Boscola was a Panamanian company owned by a trust set up by Ms Shah’s father-in-law and of which she, along with other members of her family, was a beneficiary.
She said she did not disclose her connection to her co-executor as it was a discretionary trust and so there was no guarantee she would benefit from the transaction. The SRA said she also failed to inform the co-executor of alternative purchasers.
The house was sold for £200,000 following a market valuation before being renovated and resold the following year for £600,000.
Ms Shah denied acting dishonestly in this respect but admitted acting dishonestly in overcharging Mr SC’s estate by £35,500 between 2016 and 2019.
She also admitted acting dishonesty in delaying the administration of the estate. She “failed to fully inform and/or update the residuary beneficiary appropriately and failed to provide it with sufficient information to enable it to satisfy itself that it had received its full entitlement”.
Ms Shah, who qualified in 1984, acquired the sole practice Tibb & Co in 2004, which executed Mr SC’s will in 2009. The firm became Linklaw Solicitors the following year, with Ms Shah as sole equity owner, holding the compliance officer roles.
An anonymous report to the SRA in 2017 about conveyancing transactions at Linklaw triggered two investigations by the regulator.
In an agreed outcome with Ms Shah, approved by the SDT, the SRA said she was co-executor of Mr SC’s will with his friend Mr HG. Mr SC died in 2012 and, when probate was granted in 2015, the gross value of his estate was just over £646,000.
Ms Shah told the Wallace Collection in 2016 that Mr SC had died. She said the charity had been “bequeathed a large legacy”, but did not mention it was the residuary beneficiary.
Ms Shah and Mr HG went to the Wallace Collection in person in August 2016 and handed over a cheque for £440,000.
Despite a “specific enquiry” by the Wallace Collection regarding the size and/or nature of the legacy, no reference was made to it being an interim payment or the charity having an outstanding interest, which could have given it “oversight” of the costs incurred and management of the estate.
Meanwhile, Ms Shah charged the estate £106,250 in fees. A costs draftsman called in by the SRA estimated in 2022 that there had been a net overcharge of £35,500.
This included charging for nearly 3,900 letters when the costs draftsmen could only count a third of this.
It also included a fee of £1,950 for the visit to the Wallace Collection with Mr HG. Mr HG described going on a “short tour” with a senior member of its staff, having tea with her and Ms Shah, and being given £20 by the solicitor to “buy himself a drink”.
The administration of Mr SC’s estate was not finished when Linklaw was wound down in 2021. Having sent the Wallace Collection a final cheque for £141,900 in November 2019, Ms Shah admitted that it was the residuary beneficiary, and in January 2020 sent it a copy of the will.
Further allegations against Ms Shah were withdrawn by the SRA given that she accepted she should be struck off anyway. She was also ordered to pay costs of £28,000.