Alford v Katz 2022 NY Slip Op 05397 [208 AD3d 1587] September 30, 2022 is the
Appellate Division, Fourth Department’ guidance on when and how a decedent’s estate can sue for legal malpractice.
“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.”
“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 ). “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 , quoting Campagnola v Mulholland, Minion & Roe, 76 NY2d 38, 42 ), 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 ).”