A probate solicitor who undervalued assets and overpaid costs to himself has been struck off by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal.
Richard Steven Davies, a sole practitioner who operated from Mold in north Wales, undervalued the assets of one client’s estate by almost £50,000, while also taking £37,000 in costs when £16,800 appeared in the estate accounts.
In particular, he took costs totalling around £6,500 two years after the final estate accounts were sent to the beneficiaries without first raising a written bill of costs or explaining why such costs were due. He also agreed to let a co-executor receive £5,000 to go on holiday, with no evidence to suggest the money was paid back.
Davies, a solicitor for 46 years who had traded under his name since 1987, did not appear before the SDT last month and was unrepresented. He had earlier told the Solicitors Regulation Authority that he had not acted dishonestly and was hoping to organise a 'quiet and gentle' closure after suffering a period of ill health.
Davies accepted that he had acted foolishly over the costs issue but insisted these were incurred before the client’s death and he had just been slow in providing her with a bill. Addressing whether he undermined public trust in the profession, he invited investigators to view the 100 'thank you' cards in his office from clients.
But the tribunal found Davies acted dishonestly and had failed to inform beneficiaries of the estate before taking any extra costs. The tribunal also found he was dishonest in making a false declaration to his insurer.
The tribunal heard investigators had found dozens of accounting errors. Davies had also failed to register title on up to 17 conveyancing matters: in one case, the firm completed the purchase of a property and £21,000 was debited in stamp duty, but seven years later the property was still not registered in the name of the buyers.
In addition to being struck off Davies was ordered to pay £35,200 in costs.