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The Estate Planning Attorney And The Client Who Became Her Husband

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Mr. Tollefsen was in his mid-eighties and 30 years older than Ms. Lowney, had emphysema and terminal cancer, and was using a walker when he married her in 2006. They married under a confidential marriage license that wrongly stated that the two were living together.

Shortly after they were married, Mr. Tollefsen complained to relatives that his wife was not taking care of him as she had promised to do and he began living in a senior care facility. When he died, his relatives discovered that Lowney had the remainder of the $340,000 that he had transferred to her less than 2 years earlier expecting that she would pay for his care with the money. Ms. Lowney had argued before the state bar of California that she had been given the money as his girlfriend and not as his attorney.

The state bar of California’s review department did not “buy” Ms. Lowney’s explanation. They found that she had been given the money as a fiduciary, and therefore committed an act of moral turpitude by taking the funds. The review department recommended that Ms. Lowney be disbarred.

I am not sure what the moral of this story is as events like this one do not happen every day. Very few estate planning or probate attorneys enter into relationships with their clients. Nevertheless, there are unscrupulous attorneys and we should all be cognizant of that fact.

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