Attorney Accused of Theft While Administering an Estate in California

Posted on Nov 03, 2013

When a loved one dies, family members often seek help administering an estate in California from a trusted legal professional. The compensation received by this attorney must be reasonable and fair. When it is not, the attorney can be found liable. A recent report from the State Bar of California describes just such an incident involving an attorney from La Jolla. The lawyer is accused of taking more than $500,000 from the estates of deceased clients during the administration process. As a result of the alleged theft, at least one beneficiary has stepped forward to file suit against the attorney. That beneficiary is the American Cancer Society. 

According to the claims brought by the State Bar of California, the lawyer, James McGowan, paid himself nearly $515,000 from the trust of his client, Henry Thackwell, and the estate of Mr. Thackwell’s wife, Hildegard. Mr. Thackwell died in April of 2001, and his wife passed away six months later. The payments were made over a span of nine years. 

Attorney McGowan reportedly argues that the money represented his compensation for law firm services rendered. He did not, however, provide an accounting of the legal work performed on behalf of the trust and the estate. Further, state law requires all probate attorneys to receive court approval before receiving payment for administering an estate in California, if such payment is to come out of estate funds. Attorney McGowan did not seek such approval.

Shortly after the charges were filed against him, Attorney McGowan notified all of his other clients that he was retiring from the practice of law, though his license remains active. The State Bar of California has issued three charges against Attorney McGowan. The matter will be heard by the State Bar Court.

To learn more about this and other matters, or to get help with your own estate from a trusted Anaheim trust administration attorney with a proven track record, contact our office today at (714) 459-5481.

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James F. Roberts
Founder and owner of the Law Office of James F. Roberts and Associates, a premiere estate planning law firm