Joseph Boles, Jr. appointed himself beneficiary or trustee of multiple families' wills and trusts without written consent.
Author: Atyia Collins
ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. — The Florida Supreme Court suspended prominent St. Augustine attorney and former city mayor Joe Boles after he admitted to misconduct and conflict of interest following an investigation by the Florida Bar.
The 90-day suspension comes after a judge determined Boles showed "a pattern of misconduct" in violating Bar rules governing conflicts of interest. The Bar filed its complaint against Boles last November after receiving two complaints from Boles' clients and discovering a third concerning case while investigating.
Boles, who specializes in estate planning and elder law, serves as the president and chairman of the St. Johns County Council on Aging. He served as St. Augustine mayor from 2006 to 2014, and as a City Commissioner for two years before that.
According to court records in the case, Boles designated himself as a surrogate designated beneficiary or backup successor trustee without getting written consent from his clients.
The original complaint names three victims.
In the first victim's case, the complaint says Boles was hired in 2020 to create a trust for a woman with aggressive cancer. The woman's designated successor trustee said Boles appointed himself as backup successor trustee against both women's wishes. Boles denied this and told Bar investigators he did so with the client's permission. But Bar investigators determined he failed to obtain written consent to do so, as required.
In a second case, a woman said she met with Boles in 2015 for his offer of free will preparation and then again in 2021 to modify her will and request a trust. She alleges that after reviewing the documents, she discovered that Boles was named as trustee of the trust, and Boles' law partner (and stepson) was named backup successor.
The complaint says "[Boles] unilaterally appointed himself as the personal representative in her will, appointed, himself as her healthcare surrogate, and appointed himself as [the client's] preneed guardian in the event of her future incapacity."
The client ultimately hired a different attorney to assist her with revoking the trust and drafting new estate planning document.
Boles said he had the client's permission, but acknowledged he "failed to obtain the written informed consent ... to appoint himself," as required by law.
During its investigation into the two complaints, the Bar also
discovered a third case in which Boles named himself as a surrogate
designated beneficiary in the will.
The complaint says Boles; "drafted and filed affidavits for the beneficiaries designated in the will ... in which they gave up all of their rights and responsibilities in the estate and designated respondent as the surrogate beneficiary."
Boles told investigators he was asked to do so by his clients, but investigators found he failed to advise them to seek independent legal counsel before signing the waivers. Ultimately, Boles handled this case on a pro bono basis and distributed the proceeds of the sale of the home to the beneficiaries.
In recommending discipline in the case, the designated "referee," 4th Circuit Judge Meredith Charbula said she took into account several mitigating factors, including Boles' "absence of a prior disciplinary record; timely good faith effort to make restitution or to rectify the consequences of the misconduct; full and free disclosure to the bar or cooperative attitude toward the proceedings; character or reputation; and remorse."
The judge also found no evidence that Boles wrongfully appropriated any money or assets to his own use.
As part of the suspension, Boles is prohibited from accepting new
business until he is reinstated. He will also pay disciplinary costs of
$2,565. He will be automatically reinstated after the suspension is