The father of a local Conservative MP has been fined by the Law Society of B.C. for writing himself into a client’s will.
For two breaches of professional conduct Penticton lawyer Charles Louis Albas — father to Okanagan Coquihalla MP Dan Albas — has been ordered by the society to pay a $7,000 fine, as well as $1,736.25 in legal costs.
“There is no evidence that he exerted pressure on his client or that the proposed gift to himself was anything other than her true testamentary wishes,” reads the decision from the three-person panel.
However, they explain in the decision, Albas there are two cases where he should not have overseen the writing of a will he was the beneficiary of, and that’s where he ran afoul of the law society.
“In both instances he took steps to benefit himself directly or indirectly without ensuring that his client had independent legal advice,” they wrote. “This is a serious breach of duty to a client.”
According to the agreed statement of fact, Albas was the legal representative of a woman referred to throughout the law society document as FC.
She asked him prepare a will that left half her estate to Shiners Hospitals and half to Albas, and it was executed in February 2009, witnessed by his receptionist and legal assistant.
In 2013 new rules of conduct prohibiting lawyers from preparing wills in which they receive gifts came into play, so Albas, with the consent of FC, agreed to have a third party write a new will.
He chose a lawyer with whom he shared office space to do the work, but that lawyer did not direct the preparation of the will or take on responsibility for its execution.
Albas then went about preparing a new will that instead named his wife as the beneficiary of half of FC’s estate.
He took the document to FC, but she never signed it and in July 2013 she was committed under the Mental Health Act.
Albas was able to get FC released when he wrote a letter to a hospital on her behalf, but in September 2013 she retained a new lawyer.
That lawyer wrote to Albas demanding that Albas “cease any further contact or communication with FC.”
Once the matter reached the law society, Albas admitted to his misconduct, which the panel said bode well. It still didn’t negate the missteps he made.
“The importance of ensuring the public’s confidence in the integrity of the legal profession cannot be overstated when determining an appropriate disciplinary action,” they wrote.
“Most members of the public require a will. Many of them will entrust the preparation of a will to the lawyer that they know personally. They should be entitled to rely on their lawyer to act in their best interests. Given the vulnerability of clients, the lawyer must not accept gifts from a client without ensuring that client has received independent legal advice.”