Auckland lawyer slapped with $22,000 fine for blunder on client's will

The "clumsily drafted" will had the lawyer take a client’s estate from her daughters

Auckland lawyer slapped with $22,000 fine for blunder on client's will

An Auckland lawyer has been fined $22,000 after mistakenly designating himself the sole beneficiary of an elderly client's estate, reported the NZ Herald.

Joseph Boaz Park was censured by the Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal after he drafted what the tribunal described as a "bizarre" and "clumsily drafted" will that left a elderly client’s two daughters disinherited.

In January 2020, an elderly Korean woman sought Park's help in securing a reverse mortgage for her property and asked him to help in drafting a will. Park, who is also Korean, practised mainly in conveyancing and did not have much experience with wills and estate law.

In March, Park received a document, written in Korean, that stated his client’s detailed intentions on how her estate was to be bequeathed to her two daughters. Park drafted an English-language will naming himself as executor. As published in the Herald, the will included the provision: "give, devise and bequeath the whole of my estate…unto my said solicitor."

The woman signed the document, which did not come with a copy in Korean. After she died in April 2020, her daughters claimed that Park deliberately crafted the will to benefit himself and the lawyer faced two charges of misconduct.

However, the tribunal found that Park’s actions stemmed from inexperience and lack of supervision from his employer, rather than an intent to commit fraud.

"Despite the multitude of allegations made against him, we find nothing to call into question Mr Park’s character as a practitioner," the tribunal wrote in a liability decision published last year.

Park was nevertheless found guilty of unsatisfactory conduct for his lack of competence in drafting the will as well as for a lack of courtesy towards a beneficiary of an estate of which he was administrator. Earlier this month, the tribunal released a penalty decision stating its finding that Park was trying to draft the will according to his client’s wishes.

“Mr Park clumsily drafted a will with the result that it appeared to give the entire estate to him. Professional error is always a risk where a lawyer embarks on work in an unfamiliar area. A message in this decision is that lawyers must take care, seek assistance, even where the task may seem simple", the tribunal wrote in the decision.

Ultimately, Park was slapped with a $5,000 fine and an order to pay $17,000 in legal costs. He said that he intended to comply.

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