Professional Accountability

The Daily Mail (UK) has this article about the circumstances surrounding the execution of Hughette Clark’s will. Hughette Clark was the reclusive daughter and heir of a wealthy U.S. Senator. (Ms. Clark died at 104 in 2011, having spent about the last 20 years of her life in a hospital room in New York, cut off from her family and friends (by her lawyer and accountant), while her large estates in various states sat unused for decades. Ms. Clark left an estimated fortune of $307 million.) According to papers filed in the New York probate court, where her will is being contested, she was “incoherent and barely able to hold the pen” while signing the documents. To make matters worse, her lawyer, accountant, and the hospital were conspiring to enrich themselves at her expense. Both her lawyer and accountant were to inherit large sums of money from her (her family being cut out entirely) and they apparently took the signed will with them to the local bar to celebrate their good fortune after convincing her to sign the document.

In Kansas and Missouri, lawyers are required to attend legal ethics courses as part of the continuing education requirements. If you don’t attend continuing education, you can’t keep your law license. For attorneys, there are at least 2 glaring ethical violations here: (1) you never allow an incapacitated client to sign a legal document (you always talk with the client first to be sure they know who they are, what they own, and who they want to give it to) and (2) you rarely, if ever, accept any gift in a will from a client. Kansas law says an interested witness (e.g. a lawyer who’s receiving a gift from his client) can’t inherit more than he would be entitled to if the client died without a will. Missouri law has similar provisions. Accepting a gift in a will from a deceased client raises serious ethical issues.¬†Unfortunately, Ms. Clark’s lawyer and accountant did her a great disservice by not acting professionally and by not watching out for her best interests.

At my firm, Johnson Law KC LLC, we work hard to serve every client’s needs with integrity and clarity. If I can help you or a loved one with estate planning, asset protection, elder law, or small business needs, give me a call (913-707-9220) or email me (steve@johnsonlawkc.com) for a convenient, free consultation.

(c) 2013, Stephen M. Johnson, Esq.

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