Sometimes even a superstar flares out. Such was the determination of a New York jury which found that attorney Jonathan Blattmachr had breached his fiduciary duty by recommending a plan to avoid estate tax by purchasing life insurance pursuant to a method known as a"split dollar insurance arrangement" to Henry Schein, one of the wealthy and well-known clients advised by Mr. Blattmachr and his firm Milbank, Tweed. The verdict is reported in the Wall Street Journal which notes that since the jury also found that this breach was not material in contributing to the client’s loss when the IRS disallowed the strategy, the Schein Estate was not entitled to collect damages.
This story carries with it an implied word to the wise. In this situation, the strategy recommended was already falling into some disfavor with the IRS . Usually, when a plan of action doesn’t feel right or has been subject to criticism in high places (the IRS is a good example of that), a second –or even a third– look is usually in order. If an estate planning genius with the ability of Jonathan Blattmachr can run afoul of the law, the rest of us are doubly warned.