A southern Illinois attorney is in trouble for stealing $146,000 from his mom’s estate, according to a hearing board. The mother’s will named her attorney/son as the executor and instructed that the estate be divided among her five children equally. The complaint against him says the estate was worth approximately $225,000. So if this is true, he definitely took far more than his share. I’m surprised his siblings didn’t sue him or try to remove him as executor of the estate when they weren’t getting their inheritance.
On top of the theft, the hearing board said he lied in the accounting of the estate that he filed with the court. For example, the accounting stated that about half had gone into a trust account, which apparently didn’t exist.
This guy didn’t become a lawyer until he was in his mid-50s. It’s not unheard of – people switch careers later in their working life, or decide to add a degree to their resume. I question his motives, however, and whether he got his law degree simply because he thought it would be a moneymaker. I suppose it is, if you manage steal $150k from your mom’s estate and get away with it. But, he didn’t get away with it.
The entity that manages law licenses and handles attorney discipline is the ARDC. They hear the case, like a trial, and recommend a sentence that can range from a mild reprimand to complete disbarment. In this case, a panel recommended that the lawyer get a two-year suspension. That means he’ll be back to practicing law in a fairly short time. He also has to pay back the money he took and take a legal professionalism class. He apparently admitted to taking the money from his mother’s estate.
Honestly, I’m surprised he didn’t get hit with a lifetime suspension. I’m also surprised he hasn’t been charged with a crime and sentenced to jail time. The Illinois Supreme Court gets the final say on attorney disciplinary matters, so perhaps they’ll see it differently.
Two years seems like a slap on the wrist. All of this supposedly happened over the course of many years. If he was willing to do this to his own family, I don’t see what’s there to stop him from doing it to a client in the future. Sometimes, those who get caught change their ways. But many times, if they get a second chance, they go back to the same old routine. It’s a scary situation because it shows that even if you make a good estate plan, name an executor who you think will do a good job (your son who’s a lawyer, for example), it can still go wrong and end up affecting your other intended beneficiaries.
If an attorney has been disciplined by the ARDC, it’s a public record. You can search any Illinois lawyer’s name on iardc.org and see whether they’ve been in trouble. Most people don’t realize how easy it is to check on their lawyer this way. It takes less than a minute, which is worth it to avoid hiring someone with a record.
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