An experienced solicitor who engineered a payment from a client’s will to pay herself £2,000 has been banned from practice.
Sarah Anne Hemmings, a solicitor for 21 years, admitted acting dishonestly and concealing from her firm that she was the true beneficiary of the payment.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal heard that Hemmings, formerly with Buckinghamshire firm Wilkins Solicitors, had failed to advise her client she should seek independent legal advice prior to bequeathing a £2,000 legacy.
After the client died in March 2015, Hemmings agreed she was not entitled to the money after consulting with her firm and with the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s professional ethics helpline.
However in April 2016, Hemmings requested a cheque for £2,000 be made payable to National Savings from the client account, writing in the details section this was for investment in her Premium Bonds. She later admitted the cheque was intended for her benefit and told her firm she had ‘needed the money’.
Hemmings had actually come to the attention of the SRA in 2014 when the regulator received a complaint from the step-son of a client.
Following the client’s admission into a care home after a stroke, both the step-son and the client’s cleaner, to whom the client had become close, contacted Hemmings to instruct her to execute a lasting power of attorney and/or a deputyship order.
The tribunal heard it was clear that a conflict of interest existed between the new prospective clients but Hemmings accepted instructions to act for both parties.
In an outcome agreed with the SRA, Hemmings offered no mitigation and agreed to an order that she be struck off. She was also ordered to pay £15,000 costs.