Complaints, Lawyer Discipline and Public Hearings

Summary of Decision of the Hearing Panel

Angiola-Patrizia Paola De Stefanis

Vancouver, BC

Called to the bar: August 28, 1992

Written materials submitted: April 17, 2018

Panel: Tony Wilson, QC, Chair, Dan Goodleaf and Shona Moore, QC

Decision issued: June 19, 2018 (2018 LSBC 16)

Counsel: Alison Kirby for the Law Society; Jean Whittow, QC for Angiola De Stefanis

FACTS AND DETERMINATION

Angiola De Stefanis practised primarily in family law and wills and estates. In 2009, she was retained by a client  to address potential elder fraud by an attorney appointed under a power of attorney. De Stefanis prepared a new will, which appointed herself and a friend of the  client as co-executors of the will.

When the  client passed away, the friend renounced her appointment as co-executor and left De Stefanis as the sole executor. The sole beneficiary was the deceased’ s brother living in Italy whose daughter communicated with De Stefanis on his behalf.

De Stefanis issued two trust cheques to herself, one for $100,000 and another for $10,000 from estate funds she held in trust, for payment of executor fees for her role in administering the estate. The $110,000 remuneration was approximately 12 per cent of the gross aggregate value of the estate, which was not in compliance with section 88(3) of the Trustee Act. That Act permits executor fees of up to five per cent of the gross aggregate value of the estate.

De Stefanis sent an email to the beneficiary’ s daughter with a document titled “ interim summary of estate account transactions,” which stated the executor fees charged were $50,000, as well as a consent and release form for the beneficiary to sign and approve of the accounting.

De Stefanis sent another email to the beneficiary’ s daughter to finalize the administration of the estate. She attached a document titled “ final summary of estate account transactions,” which stated the total executor fees charged were $60,000, as well as another consent and release form for the beneficiary to sign and approve of the accounting.

De Stefanis’ practice was subject to a compliance audit by the Law Society’ s Trust Assurance Department. The Law Society requested an explanation for charging the estate a greater percentage than the Trustee Act allows. She stated that the family was extremely appreciative for the assistance she offered and the $100,000 she received was a gift to demonstrate their gratitude.

During the Law Society’ s investigation, the beneficiary’ s daughter confirmed in an interview that the fees set out in the summaries were requested by De Stefanis. The beneficiary said she had no idea whether the executor fees De Stefanis requested were excessive, too low or fair.

De Stefanis consented to the agreed statement of facts, the Law Society’ s written submissions and the proposed order that she be disbarred. De Stefanis admitted that she misappropriated the sum of $50,000 when she was not entitled to those funds and the family was unaware she had taken the funds. She admitted to altering the figures and delivering false accountings in the interim summary and final summary of estate account transactions. She also admitted she made false representations to the Law Society during a compliance audit and professional conduct investigation. She did not offer an explanation of why she took the funds.

She eliminated the trust shortage by paying $50,000 to trust. She wound up her practice and ceased membership in 2017.

The hearing panel accepted her admission of professional misconduct and approved the proposed disciplinary action of disbarment.

DISCIPLINARY ACTION

The panel ordered that De Stefanis

  1. be disbarred; and
  2. pay costs of $1,000 to the Law Society.

2018 LSBC 16 Decision of the Hearing Panel