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Commonwealth of Massachusetts

Public Reprimand No. 2007-19



ELIZABETH A. MORROW

Order (public reprimand) entered by the Board June 21, 2007.

SUMMARY1


Charles F. Perrault was admitted to the Bar of the Commonwealth on January 18, 1985. Elizabeth A. Morrow was admitted to the Bar of the Commonwealth on December 18, 1992. In 1990, Mr. Perrault began a private practice under the name of Charles F. Perrault and Associates, in Methuen, Massachusetts. In 1996, Ms. Morrow joined the practice as an employee associate. Mr. Perrault (see Public Reprimand No: 2007-18) and Ms. Morrow received public reprimands for their conduct as follows.

In late 2000, Mr. Perrault received a telephone call from a woman (Ann) whom he and Ms. Morrow had represented on some personal matters over the prior three years. Ann told Mr. Perrault that she had two elderly cousins who were sisters and who had recently asked her to become involved in helping them with their affairs and their finances. Ann also told Mr. Perrault that the sisters had no children and were considering leaving their property to her in exchange for her help. This conversation was general, and Ann did not request or receive any specific legal advice or assistance.

On December 26, 2000, Ann telephoned Mr. Perraultís law office. Mr. Perrault was on vacation, and Ms. Morrow took the call. Ann asked Ms. Morrow to prepare powers of attorney for her elderly cousins appointing Ann as their attorney-in-fact. Ann informed Ms. Morrow that one of the sisters, Ida, was hospitalized and apparently did not have long to live, and that both Ida and Julia, the other sister, had asked Ann to help them with their finances. Ann also told Ms. Morrow that the sisters might also want wills prepared and that they owned two pieces of real estateótheir house in Methuen and a condominium in New Hampshire.

After discussing Annís request with Mr. Perrault by telephone, Ms. Morrow prepared two durable powers of attorney, one for each sister and both in favor of Ann. At Annís request, Ms. Morrow then asked an office paralegal to bring the documents to the hospital to be signed by the sisters on December 27, 2000. The paralegal did so, and each sister signed her power of attorney and the paralegal notarized the sistersí signatures.

On or about December 28, 2000, Ann telephoned Ms. Morrow again and requested that she prepare wills for each of the sisters leaving their estates to Ann. Ann told Ms. Morrow that neither of the sisters had any children and that both sisters wanted to leave their property to her in exchange for her help. All financial accounts and real estate were owned jointly by the sisters, such that Ann would effectively only inherit after the second sister died.

Ms. Morrow prepared wills for the sisters as requested. On December 29, 2000, the paralegal brought the wills to the hospital to be signed. Each sister signed her will, each signature was witnessed by two witnesses and the paralegal signed each will as notary.

On Tuesday, January 2, 2001, Ann called the Perrault office once again. At this point, Ms. Morrow was away on vacation and Mr. Perrault was back in the office and took the call. Ann asked Mr. Perrault to prepare two deeds for the sisters. Mr. Perrault was not aware that the sisters had signed wills leaving their property to Ann at the end of the prior week.

Ann told Mr. Perrault that the sisters wanted to give her two pieces of real estate that they jointly owned because of her continuing help in caring for them and handling their finances. Ann told Mr. Perrault that the sisters wanted to give her their New Hampshire condominium outright, and that they wanted to give her their home in Methuen as long as Julia could live there the rest of her life.

Mr. Perrault caused deeds to be prepared transferring the properties as requested. On January 5, 2001, Mr. Perrault asked another office paralegal to bring the deeds to Idaís nursing home to be signed by the sisters. The paralegal did so and notarized the sistersí signatures. Mr. Perrault then caused both deeds to be recorded in the appropriate registries of deeds.

The powers of attorney and the wills prepared by Ms. Morrow were significant donative documents affecting the substantial legal rights of the sisters. In preparing the powers of attorney and the wills and assisting the sisters in executing them, Ms. Morrow was providing legal services to the sisters. Ann and the sisters had differing interests in connection with the documents.

In preparing the powers of attorney and the wills for the signatures of the sisters and assisting in their execution, Ms. Morrow took inadequate steps to assure that each of the sisters understood the import of the documents, agreed to their terms, was competent to sign the documents and was not subject to any undue influence. Ms. Morrow took no steps to assure that the sisters had the advice of independent counsel in connection with the powers of attorney and the wills.

In March of 2001, Ann and Julia quarreled. Julia retained a lawyer to assist the sisters in reclaiming their property. She subsequently revoked the will prepared by Ms. Morrow and executed a new will. The sisters filed suit against Ann alleging that the powers of attorney, wills and deeds were procured through undue influence; that they did not understand the documents when they signed them; and that Ida had not been competent to sign the documents.

In July of 2003, the case was settled. Ann waived any right to probate Idaís will (Ida having died shortly after suit had been filed); she relinquished control over joint bank accounts of Julia and Ida that she had transferred as attorney-in-fact to accounts in her and Juliaís name or her name only; and she deeded the Methuen property back to Julia. Julia waived her claim to the New Hampshire condominium.

In preparing the durable powers of attorney and wills for the signatures of the sisters at the request of Ann and assisting in their execution, Ms. Morrow violated Mass. R. Prof. C. 1.7(a) and 1.7(b).

In preparing the durable powers of attorney and wills for the signatures of the sisters without taking adequate steps to assure that each of the sisters understood the import of the documents, agreed to their terms, was competent to sign the documents and was not subject to any undue influence, Ms. Morrow violated Mass. R. Prof. C. 1.1, 1.2(a), 1.3 and 1.4(b).

In mitigation, Ms. Morrow had no personal interest in the representation other than modest fees totaling $966 for the preparation of the documents. In further mitigation, the paralegal who notarized the sistersí signatures on the powers of attorney and the signatures of the sisters and the witnesses on the wills, believed that each sister knew what she was signing on both occasions and did so freely and voluntarily.

This matter came before the Board of Bar Overseers on a stipulation of facts and rules violations and a joint recommendation that a sanction of public reprimand be imposed. On June 11, 2007, the Board voted to accept the stipulation of the parties and to administer a public reprimand to the respondent.


1 Compiled by the Board of Bar Overseers based on the record of proceedings before the Board.



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