Kelowna lawyer resigns after writing himself into client's will
Christopher Roy Penty admitted to directing three quarters of client's estate 'for his own use'
A Kelowna lawyer who admitted to adding his name to a client's will and pocketing more than $100,000 of a bequest meant for charity has resigned from the Law Society of B.C.
Christopher Roy Penty has given up the right to practice law as of Sept. 28, after signing an agreed statement of facts admitting to four counts of professional misconduct, according to the law society.
That statement of facts sets out how Penty convinced a dying man to direct three-quarters of an estate worth more than $200,000 toward the lawyer "for his own use absolutely."
Penty said he met with a man suffering from kidney failure in Kelowna General Hospital in December 2014, and agreed to prepare a will. He was told the dying man wanted all of his money to go to charity, and none to his family.
The client couldn't name a charity to write into the will, but Penty suggested the Kelowna Hospice Foundation — an organization where Penty was the president and a director.
The client agreed to leave a quarter of his estate to the hospice foundation and the rest to Penty to be "paid out, in his unfettered discretion, to various charities, persons and organizations of his choosing," the will reads.
But the will did not stipulate that Penty would be trustee of the estate with the responsibilities that implies. He told the law society that was because becoming a trustee required "simply a lot of unpaid work."
Even so, Penty said he knew what he was doing was inappropriate and "there was obviously the risk that it would be perceived that [he] was simply taking a client's money."
The client died five days after meeting with Penty for the first time.
A few months later, after selling the client's house and donating more than $50,000 to the hospice foundation, Penty transferred the remaining $153,931.35 into a personal chequing account.
He would go on to donate $37,500 of that to various causes, including friends of the dead man and the Kelowna SPCA, but in the end transferred the bulk of it — $95,000 — into a personal securities account.
As for the amount still left in his personal chequing account, Penty used more than $16,000 on things like shopping at Wal-Mart, a personal loan payment and travel insurance for a trip to Thailand.
Client's money now held in trust
The law society began investigating Penty in January 2016 after a former legal assistant at his firm complained, according to the statement of facts.
As part of his agreement to resign from the law society, Penty has promised not to apply for reinstatement as a lawyer for seven years.
He has since returned $138,145 of the client's money to be held in trust by a law firm, and told the law society he always intended to donate the cash to charity as promised.
This wasn't the first time Penty has been disciplined by the law society. In 2015, he admitted to issuing bills to clients that misrepresented the amount he was entitled to, and to misrepresenting facts before a Supreme Court master.
He was suspended from the profession for four months and ordered to pay hearing costs of $2,500.
Penty had been a member of the law society since 1983.