A solicitor has been jailed for four years for stealing more than £278,000 from dead clients to fund his comfortable lifestyle.
Clients trusted the solicitor with their relatives' estates
Russell Hiscott, 54, who practised in Monmouth, south Wales, began stealing the money from clients' estates after his business failed.
Cardiff Crown Court was told that the father-of-three opened secret building society accounts, into which he channelled money to pay off debts run up in his firm.
But he was caught after the widow of one client realised she had received a cheque for nearly £100,000 less than the value of her husband's estate.
Prosecutor Martyn Kelly said Hiscott had conned the dead clients' families to siphon off funds for his own use.
He told the court Hiscott had been systematically using clients' money since 1993.
Police traced bank and building society accounts and found substantial amounts of clients' money had been deposited.
"All the money came from the estates of deceased men and women and this put an additional burden on the widows, widowers and children," Mr Kelly said. "This is a gross breach of trust."
Mr Kelly said Hiscott had used the money to sustain his lifestyle, and to keep his firm, Hiscott &Co, afloat.
"It disappeared in various directions to maintain his lifestyle and was used to pay debts owed to the bank and on credit cards," Mr Kelly said.
"He had lived beyond his means and benefited from a lifestyle sustained by this money. "It was a comfortable lifestyle."
Hiscott was investigated by Gwent Police Fraud Squad after he persuaded Ruth Burberry - the widow of a client - to invest her late husband's £120,000 estate in a building society in Hiscott's name.
But when she checked the balance Hiscott had removed the cash, leaving only £10,000.
Hiscott, of Filton Road, Bristol, has since been declared bankrupt and struck off by the Law Society.
Michael Fitton, defending, said Hiscott had counted on paying the money back through investments.
"He made down payments on policies he hoped would mature but there was still a shortfall," he said.
"His family were devastated to discover he had been living a secret life without confiding in them, but his wife is standing by him," he went on.
"He does not seek to excuse or diminish his trickery and is deeply ashamed to have brought himself and his family to this position."
Hiscott admitted nine counts of theft and one of false accounting between 1997 and 2000.
Jailing him for four years Judge David Wynn Morgan told Hiscott: "The trust placed in you by your victims was absolute.
"A number were elderly and recently-bereaved.
"You have lost your reputation, tarnished that of your profession and lost your livelihood."