UK: Manifestly incompetent solicitor fined for role in “secret sale” of inheritence property

Legal Futures reports

A solicitor who facilitated a “secret, snap sale of inheritance property” after which the seller absconded to Morocco has been fined £15,000.

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) said the facts of the case were “so stark” that, in failing to take note of the warning signs, Sonia Hunjan was “manifestly incompetent”.

Approving an agreed outcome between Ms Hunjan and the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), the SDT heard that the solicitor, admitted in 2001, joined Rana & Co in 2014.

Ms Hunjan admitted that in 2016 she “facilitated a transaction which bore the hallmarks of illegitimate attempts to circumvent third-party interests of the property”, without undertaking adequate enquiries.

The SRA said Client B had been in a relationship with a Miss D and together had owned a property.

After their joint tenancy was severed in 2011, making them tenants in common, Miss D sought to put an unusual restriction on the property, so no sale of the property could be registered after the death of one of them without written consent from their personal representatives.

Although the restriction was not registered, Ms Hunjan was aware of it. Another restriction, which was registered, stated that no sale of the property could registered without a court order, unless it was by a trust corporation.

Miss D died in 2013. Client B instructed Rana & Co in 2016 to sell the property and remove the restriction. The estate agents were given three weeks to find a buyer and not advertise it anywhere.

The property was sold for £445,000, between £105,000 and £135,000 less than the valuation.

The residual proceeds of £407,000 were transferred to Client B. None of it went to his joint trustee in a trust corporation that had been set up, who had been chosen by Client B.

Ms Hunhan did not advise the trustee about their responsibilities or to take independent legal advice on the appointment.

The SRA said there was no evidence that the other trustee had authorised the solicitor to pay the whole of the proceeds to Client B.

“The single trustee was paid only on the strength of the evidence of the death of the joint owner and sight of an unproved [2002] will, which Client B said meant he was entitled to the whole of the proceeds of sale in any event.

“This, coupled with the apparent lack of any advice given to Person E about his responsibilities as trustee, suggests that she regarded the appointment as a device to side-step the bureaucracy of the Land Registry rather than as a substantive responsibility intended to protect the interests of beneficiaries.”

Soon after, it emerged that Miss D had made a new will revoking the 2002 version and leaving her estate to her son. Client B was challenging this at the time he instructed Ms Hunjan to sell the property.