About lawyer's duty to give clients a copy of all documents

Hello, I have a question regarding power of attorney and wills; Recently we had an older friend signed the power of attorney (both for personal care and property, selecting me and my husband as her designated attorneys) as well as her simple will in a lawyer’s office. The lawyer only gave her an unsigned copy of the will, and kept a signed copy for himself. When she inquired about the validity of the unsigned will, he said not to worry about it, that she doesn’t need it and that the unsigned copy in her possession is as good as a signed copy that he has. Also, he only gave her a copy of the powers of attorney, but not to us. When we asked for it, he was upset that we are asking for it and acted like we are really inconveniencing him by asking for a copy for our records. Our friend also signed another document, donating all her assets/land inheritance to her family overseas. Again, she did not receive a copy of that document. When she asked for the copy 2 days later, the lawyer said he already sent it overseas and does not feel like going to the safe to retrieve his copy to give it to her as well. She paid $ 3,000 as a ‘retainer’, for 4 documents consisting 4-5 pages each. The lawyer said he will send her another invoice, for additional costs. My questions are: Is a lawyer not obligated to give the client a signed copy of everything, for her records? Is the unsigned will also valid as the signed one? What is a typical fee for such documents (that seem to be a standard document and it is not too much work to type her personal info into a template) -what he charges seems to be excessive? Thank you, Sanja B.

Asked 7 months ago in Toronto, Ontario
Categories: Wills, Estates, Trusts

Answer Now

Shira Kalfa

Answer by Shira Kalfa

Not VerifiedOntario lawyer

Absolutely. First, any documents including estate documents that a lawyer prepares are proprietary to the client. Meaning, they wholly belong to the client. It is not within the right of the lawyer to retain same, possess same nor charge for access. 

I rarely encourage this, but it sounds like this lawyer should be reported to the relevant regulatory body in charge of governing a lawyers licence. All of the above actions are violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct which every lawyer must abide and he or she could face disciplinary action. 

As an aside, the unsigned Will has no value and is not binding under law. No lawyer would state that an unsigned version has any legal effect. However, the lawyer was correct in advising to sign only 1 copy as under the Rules, there can only be 1 original signed Will. However it is the clients decision as to who holds the single original Will and if the client wishes to hold the Will then this is his/her right. Often, lawyers hoard Wills so that they will be the lawyer used to administer the estate on death - essentially, hoping for the future billables. This conduct is reprehensible and should be reported.

Posted 6 months ago

Shira Kalfa is a founding partner of Kalfa Law, a business & tax law firm in Toronto. As the lead solicitor at Kalfa Law, Shiras' practice is focused on:

Corporate law including incorporation, joint ventures, partnership agreements, shareholder agreements and corporate restructuring
• Commercial law including asset and share purchase and sale transactions, contract drafting and review and financing
Tax law & tax planning
Learn more about Kalfa Law here
Call Shira at: 416-631-7227
Email Shira at: reception@kalfalaw.com

Please note that this is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice to you. Legal advice pertaining to your particular situation can only be provided by a lawyer who has met with you to obtain all pertinent background information necessary to give you a formal legal opinion. For formal legal advice, hire a lawyer (many give a free first consultation). Contact Shira Kalfa, or search the Lawyer Directory.

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