Practice Area

Trusts and Estates

Estate Litigation

Patterson Belknap’s trust and estate litigation practice comprises attorneys who have been recognized by clients and peers as leaders in the profession.  Best Lawyers in America ranked our Trusts & Estates Group #1 in New York City for six years in a row. Our leadership in litigation is consistently recognized in Chambers USA. The guide notes that "This team 'consistently delivers high-caliber work' which attracts long-standing clients. The team consists of 'smart and aggressive litigators who deliver excellent results time and time again'."  They bring to this practice a deep knowledge of the unique legal issues and procedures relevant to probate, trust and tax litigation. 

It is often difficult to find an experienced estates and trusts attorney with proven litigation skills, or a top-notch litigator with in-depth knowledge of trust and estate and tax issues.  Patterson Belknap brings both of these skills to our practice.  We represent beneficiaries, executors and trustees in contested and uncontested Surrogate’s Court proceedings concerning the probate and construction of wills, administration of estates and trusts and recovery of estate assets.  We also represent individuals and executors in contested gift and estate tax audits, at all stages of the audit process.  Our goal is to settle each audit favorably as early in the process as possible, but, when circumstances dictate, our attorneys have the experience to advocate for clients at the level of IRS Appeals or take the matter to trial in U.S. Tax Court.

A key attribute of our litigators is their actual courtroom trial experience.  Our adversaries understand that we are not afraid to go to court when necessary.  This helps us to secure for our clients the most favorable settlements possible in mediation or even prior to litigation.

The group’s significant matters include a major victory in a trial representing several members of a wealthy family in connection with audits of their federal gift tax returns.  In a strongly worded opinion, the Tax Court held for the taxpayers and explicitly rejected each argument put forward by the IRS.  We also obtained a settlement in an estate tax audit, at the IRS Appeals level, for a fraction of the deficiency amount asserted by the IRS, as well as another successful settlement of a gift tax valuation case shortly before trial was scheduled, after completion of discovery and all major motions in preparation for trial.

Representative Matters

  • The firm achieved a significant victory for a client in a will construction proceeding in Nassau County Surrogate's Court.  At issue was the interpretation of the tax apportionment clause in our client's father's Will and Revocable Trust. The decision we secured from the court resulted in a significant payment from the estate free from estate taxes.

  • Represented a high-profile individual in connection with his role as Executor of his late wife’s estate including his right to discovery into questionable transactions.

  • Represented a high net worth individual client in a litigation regarding his elective share rights to his late wife’s estate.

  • Successfully resolved a potential will contest on behalf of the estate of a prominent physician.

  • Won a major victory at trial before the U.S. Tax Court on behalf of several members of a family regarding whether sales of the stock among shareholders of a major closely-held corporation constituted arms-length transactions to establish the value of the shares.

  • Served as special counsel to a husband in a divorce litigation to address assets held in a family trust.