Legal Ethics

Lawyer Acting as Guardian Disbarred for Helping Ward Will $5M Estate to His Wife

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Despite a hitherto unblemished disciplinary record over a 30-year legal career, a New York attorney appointed as a guardian to an incapacitated person has been disbarred for helping her prepare a will in favor of his wife.

John M. Aversa was appointed in July 2009, and the next month his ward got a settlement of over $5 million in a personal injury suit, recounts the Fourth Judicial Department of the New York Supreme Court Appellate Division in an opinion (PDF) earlier this month.

A court told Aversa to retain independent counsel to help the woman prepare a will. Instead he prepared the will himself without bringing in independent counsel or evaluating the woman’s testimentary capacity. It named Aversa as the executor and his wife, under her maiden name, as the beneficiary. Two members of his immediate family were witnesses.

Besides committing what the court described as serious misconduct for personal gain, Aversa also “demonstrated a shocking lack of candor in this proceeding,” the court wrote, “by belatedly presenting to the Grievance Committee a document designed to conceal his misconduct and by providing explanations for his conduct that lack credibility.”

Aversa had claimed that the will was drafted in an effort to distribute his ward’s assets to charity, as she wished, via his wife. He presented an unsigned, undated will addendum giving instructions to that effect after he was asked to resign as guardian, the opinion says.

Hat tip: Legal Profession Blog.

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