The will contest reported on in Surrogate Rejects Will Leaving $5 Million to Former Lawyer is interesting because it highlights the distinction between an ethics violation and a breach of law. The former can give rise to sanctions against attorneys, the latter is the basis for seeking recourse in a court of law. Sometimes the same conduct can be the basis for ethics sanctions and legal recourse, but not always.
In the linked-to news report, the focus is on lawyer misconduct that gave rise to grounds for legal recourse in the form of a probate-court order rejecting a will on the grounds of undue influence and fraud (classic grounds for rejecting a will under Florida law: F.S. §732.5165). For the reasons I wrote about here, the same conduct would likely be grounds for ethics sanctions under Rule Reg. Fla. Bar 4-1.8(c), which prohibits an attorney from preparing an instrument giving the attorney or a person related to the attorney any “substantial gift” from a client, including a testamentary gift, unless the client is related to the proposed donee.
Here’s an excerpt from Surrogate Rejects Will Leaving $5 Million to Former Lawyer:
A New York probate court has thrown out a will that bequeathed almost $5 million to the lawyer who drafted it on behalf of her deceased "paramour."
Michele Okin, a disbarred estate lawyer, was named the chief beneficiary in the January 2004 will of Pasquale Coviello, a local real estate developer who died in May 2004. Okin, 46, had been the estate lawyer for Coviello and his wife before she began an affair with Coviello in December 2002.
In a decision issued Tuesday, Orange County, N.Y., Surrogate Elaine Slobod said Okin had used this relationship to dupe Coviello, who died unexpectedly at age 62 on May 5, 2004, into executing a new will on Jan. 13, 2004. The surrogate ordered the bequests to Okin to be expunged "lest she be permitted to profit by her fraud and undue influence, or take advantage of her own wrong."