A probate solicitor who allowed her daughter to stay rent-free in a property belonging to her late client has been struck off the roll.
Michelle Mary MacLennan Hind, admitted in 2007, was found guilty of a string of allegations - including dishonesty - made before a hearing of the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal in November. These included falsely certifying a document as a true copy of a grant of probate, transferring thousands of pounds from client accounts to her personal bank account and moving monies from one client ledger to ledgers for other clients.
Hind was also found to have failed to act in a beneficiary’s best interests in the management of an estate where she was the sole executor of a will. The client had died in 2014 and when the SRA intervened two years later into her firm, Weymouth practice Redferns, no assets had been distributed to the beneficiaries of the estate.
The tribunal heard that Hind allowed her daughter to live in a property included in the client’s estate from July to October 2015 but did not obtain rental payments. She also failed to distribute funds to beneficiaries, including a cancer charity, after the property sold for £250,000 in December 2015. A valuation in February 2015 had estimated the property to be worth £420,000.
Hind described feeling ‘overwhelmed and suffering from ill-health’ during the period in question, and claimed she had been under pressure from beneficiaries. She had stated that a rent of £425 per month had been agreed with her daughter.
The tribunal said Hind's account was ‘implausible’ and ‘contrived’ and concluded she had ‘preferred the interests of her family member over the interests of her client’. The tribunal was ‘very concerned’ about Hind recommending the £250,000 purchase offer and considered she had not taken ‘basic, prudent and necessary’ steps.
The tribunal also found, in relation to another client’s estate, that Hind had instructed her son to carry out clearing and decorating work worth £7,600. This amounted to a failure to maintain her independence, the tribunal found.
Hind denied misconduct in relation to more than a dozen allegations, of which seven involved dishonesty.
On the charge of certifying a false grant of probate, she said she had been told by a colleague it was a photocopy of an original and she was certifying a true copy.
Hind confirmed, in relation to another charge, that £20,000 was paid into her personal account from a client account. She claimed this account was used as a separate designated client account for trust money, but the tribunal said this was not a ‘genuine belief’.
In its summary, the tribunal added: ‘Clients were unaware of actions taken on their behalf and the use to which their funds were put and beneficiaries were kept uninformed of their entitlements. The reputational harm to the profession of such conduct was serious.’
Hind was struck off and ordered to pay £54,000 in costs.