Death and Taxes are Certain...The Future in General is Not

The Appellate Division looked over a Supreme Court decision dismissing a legal malpractice case.  The case alleged that the estate attorneys advised the executor to pay the estate taxes from decedent's estate rather than using an alternative method which would have saved plaintiff a specific amount of tax.  In Estate of Feder v Winne, Banta, Hetherington, Basralian & Kahn, P.C.
2014 NY Slip Op 03593  Decided on May 15, 2014 Appellate Division, First Department wrote:

"The motion court properly dismissed the legal malpractice claim. Plaintiff, the wife of decedent, failed to adequately allege that defendant acted negligently in advising her to pay the estate tax out of decedent's estate, rather than making a qualified terminable interest property (QTIP) election (see IRC § 2056[b][7]). Such a QTIP election would have deferred payment of any estate taxes until plaintiff's death, at which time they would be paid out of her estate. Defendant explained that while a QTIP election might have resulted in an immediate tax savings during plaintiff's lifetime, it could have left significantly less to the residuary beneficiaries of decedent's estate. Defendant's legal obligation was to the estate, not to plaintiff. Thus, as the motion court concluded, defendant selected one among several reasonable courses of action (see Rosner v Paley, 65 NY2d 736, 738 [1985]; Rodriguez v Lipsig, Shapey, Manus & Moverman, P.C., 81 AD3d 551, 552 [1st Dept 2011]). Indeed, another firm with whom plaintiff consulted stated that defendant's analysis was correct. To the extent plaintiff argues that defendant failed to consider other alternatives, such as gifts or other trusts, those options would have contradicted the decedent's apparent testamentary intent to retain control and distribute the remainder of his assets to his children upon plaintiff's death.

The court also correctly concluded that plaintiff failed to adequately allege that defendant's conduct proximately caused any ascertainable damages. Plaintiff's damages claim was based largely on speculation that the estate tax payment could have been avoided in the future, which, as plaintiff itself acknowledged in her motion papers, depended on too many [*2]uncertainties, including future tax laws, tax rates, and the future value of the trust property (see e.g. Brooks v Lewin, 21 AD3d 731, 734-735 [1st Dept 2005], lv denied 6 NY3d 713 [2006]).

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