Beneficiaries to a will can often show losses, and even damages (which are not necessarily the same), but almost always lack the standing to sue estate planning attorneys, as beneficiaries are not the Administrator or Executor(trix) of the estate.  In Alford v Katz 2022 NY Slip Op 05397 Decided on September 30, 2022 Appellate Division, Fourth Department, plaintiff was the Executor of the estate, had standing, and could demonstrate potential damage.

“Memorandum: Plaintiff commenced this legal malpractice action as executor of and on behalf of the estate of her father, Robert J. Genco (decedent), alleging that defendants were negligent in the drafting of decedent’s will. In 2006, and before decedent and his wife were married, they entered into a prenuptial agreement that provided that decedent’s wife waived any rights to decedent’s retirement and deferred compensation accounts, and decedent’s will would include a $1 million qualified terminal interest property trust (QTIP trust) for his wife’s benefit. In 2007, decedent executed a will that included the QTIP trust bequest. In 2015, decedent changed the designation on his retirement accounts to designate his wife as the primary beneficiary of contributions decedent made after the date of their marriage and, in 2017, he signed a will that was prepared by defendants. In that will, decedent bequeathed to his wife $1 million, reduced by testamentary substitutes including retirement accounts for which she was the beneficiary, but there was no bequest for a QTIP trust. After decedent died, his wife filed a claim against his estate pursuant to SCPA 1803, claiming that she was entitled to, inter alia,

$1 million to fund the QTIP trust and, when that claim was rejected, decedent’s wife commenced an action against plaintiff as executor of decedent’s estate. Plaintiff then commenced this action, alleging that defendants negligently drafted the 2017 will. Specifically, in this action plaintiff alleges that decedent changed the beneficiary designation on his retirement accounts in exchange for his wife’s waiver of her right under the prenuptial agreement to receive the QTIP trust, but defendants negligently failed to have decedent’s wife execute a written amendment and/or waiver to the prenuptial agreement.

Before any discovery was conducted, defendants moved for summary judgment dismissing the complaint on the ground that it was premature because the action of decedent’s wife against plaintiff was still pending. Although the two actions were not consolidated, Supreme Court issued a decision and order that resolved both actions. In the wife’s action against plaintiff, the court granted the wife’s motion for summary judgment and ordered plaintiff to fund a QTIP trust with $1 million. In this action, the court, inter alia, granted defendants’ motion and dismissed the complaint and, as limited by her brief, plaintiff now appeals from the order to that extent.

We agree with plaintiff that the court erred in granting defendants’ motion. Even assuming, arguendo, that plaintiff’s action was premature at the time defendants brought their motion, it was no longer premature once the court granted the wife’s motion for summary judgment in the wife’s action against plaintiff. Contrary to defendants’ contention, plaintiff, as the personal representative of decedent’s estate, may bring a claim for legal malpractice alleging that defendants were negligent in the estate planning for decedent (see Estate of Schneider v Finmann, 15 NY3d 306, 309-310 [2010]). “Damages in a legal malpractice case are designed to ‘make the injured client whole’ ” (Rudolf v Shayne, Dachs, Stanisci, Corker & Sauer, 8 NY3d 438, 443 [2007], quoting Campagnola v Mulholland, Minion & Roe, 76 NY2d 38, 42 [1990]), and defendants failed to meet their initial burden of establishing that decedent’s estate did not sustain any damages or that any damages were speculative (cf. Leeder v Antonucci, 195 AD3d 1592, 1593 [4th Dept 2021]; see generally Zuckerman v City of New York, 49 NY2d 557, 562 [1980]).”

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Andrew Lavoott Bluestone

Andrew Lavoott Bluestone has been an attorney for 40 years, with a career that spans criminal prosecution, civil litigation and appellate litigation. Mr. Bluestone became an Assistant District Attorney in Kings County in 1978, entered private practice in 1984 and in 1989 opened…

Andrew Lavoott Bluestone has been an attorney for 40 years, with a career that spans criminal prosecution, civil litigation and appellate litigation. Mr. Bluestone became an Assistant District Attorney in Kings County in 1978, entered private practice in 1984 and in 1989 opened his private law office and took his first legal malpractice case.

Since 1989, Bluestone has become a leader in the New York Plaintiff’s Legal Malpractice bar, handling a wide array of plaintiff’s legal malpractice cases arising from catastrophic personal injury, contracts, patents, commercial litigation, securities, matrimonial and custody issues, medical malpractice, insurance, product liability, real estate, landlord-tenant, foreclosures and has defended attorneys in a limited number of legal malpractice cases.

Bluestone also took an academic role in field, publishing the New York Attorney Malpractice Report from 2002-2004.  He started the “New York Attorney Malpractice Blog” in 2004, where he has published more than 4500 entries.

Mr. Bluestone has written 38 scholarly peer-reviewed articles concerning legal malpractice, many in the Outside Counsel column of the New York Law Journal. He has appeared as an Expert witness in multiple legal malpractice litigations.

Mr. Bluestone is an adjunct professor of law at St. John’s University College of Law, teaching Legal Malpractice.  Mr. Bluestone has argued legal malpractice cases in the Second Circuit, in the New York State Court of Appeals, each of the four New York Appellate Divisions, in all four of  the U.S. District Courts of New York and in Supreme Courts all over the state.  He has also been admitted pro haec vice in the states of Connecticut, New Jersey and Florida and was formally admitted to the US District Court of Connecticut and to its Bankruptcy Court all for legal malpractice matters. He has been retained by U.S. Trustees in legal malpractice cases from Bankruptcy Courts, and has represented municipalities, insurance companies, hedge funds, communications companies and international manufacturing firms. Mr. Bluestone regularly lectures in CLEs on legal malpractice.

Based upon his professional experience Bluestone was named a Diplomate and was Board Certified by the American Board of Professional Liability Attorneys in 2008 in Legal Malpractice. He remains Board Certified.  He was admitted to The Best Lawyers in America from 2012-2019.  He has been featured in Who’s Who in Law since 1993.

In the last years, Mr. Bluestone has been featured for two particularly noteworthy legal malpractice cases.  The first was a settlement of an $11.9 million dollar default legal malpractice case of Yeo v. Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman which was reported in the NYLJ on August 15, 2016. Most recently, Mr. Bluestone obtained a rare plaintiff’s verdict in a legal malpractice case on behalf of the City of White Plains v. Joseph Maria, reported in the NYLJ on February 14, 2017. It was the sole legal malpractice jury verdict in the State of New York for 2017.

Bluestone has been at the forefront of the development of legal malpractice principles and has contributed case law decisions, writing and lecturing which have been recognized by his peers.  He is regularly mentioned in academic writing, and his past cases are often cited in current legal malpractice decisions. He is recognized for his ample writings on Judiciary Law § 487, a 850 year old statute deriving from England which relates to attorney deceit.