A North Carolina appeals court disbars an estate planning attorney who made false representations when notarizing documents for clients and met with the elderly parents of clients to get them to sign documents without informing them she was representing their children. The North Carolina State Bar v. Erickson (N.C. Ct. App., No. COA 20-245, Dec. 1, 2020).
Attorney Erica Erickson represented a woman who was administering her husband’s estate. Ms. Erickson needed approval from the woman’s children to complete the sale of the husband’s house. The woman presented an individual who she claimed was her son to sign the documents. Ms. Erickson notarized his signature, claiming she knew the man, but he turned out to not be the woman’s son. In another representation, Ms. Erickson notarized estate planning documents for a family without witnessing the signatures. Ms. Erickson lost her notary license over these incidents.
Ms. Erickson represented a man in another matter who wanted his mother to rename him as her agent under a power of attorney. She met with the woman without informing her that she was representing her son and recommended that she reinstate her son as her agent. In yet another case, Ms. Erickson met with a man to convince him to name his daughters as agents under a power of attorney without informing the man that she was representing the daughters.
The state bar initiated disciplinary proceedings against Ms. Erickson for violating rules of professional conduct prohibiting dishonest, deceitful, or misrepresentative conduct; providing legal advice to an unrepresented individual; and knowingly engaging in fraudulent conduct. Ms. Erickson disputed that she knew the man was not her client’s son when she notarized the signature and that she often visited the homes of her clients’ relatives and did not identify herself. The disciplinary hearing commission ordered Ms. Erickson disbarred, and she appealed.
The North Carolina Court of Appeals affirms the disbarment, holding the that the bar showed evidence of substantial harm to clients. According to the court, the false notarizations, “represented a false statement of material fact to a court or tribunal which rose to the level of conduct that involves dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation.” In addition, Ms. Erikson’s actions to obtain the signature of her client’s parent on a power of attorney document “involved untrustworthiness and misrepresentation.”
For the full text of this decision, go to: https://appellate.nccourts.org/opinions/?c=2&pdf=39684
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