John J. Barnosky is a seasoned estate litigation attorney whose high-profile cases include, among many others, the estates of Brooke Astor, Arthur Sackler, Doris Duke, John Hay (“Jock”) Whitney and Andy Warhol. Jack has represented families, individuals, banks, foundations and other institutions in will contests, disputes over the validity of trusts and contested accounting proceedings before the Surrogate’s Courts and other courts throughout New York State. He is also experienced in estate planning, probate, taxation and trust and estate administration.
“One of the reasons I’ve been successful is I take my client’s problems home with me and to heart. My desire to obtain the results coincides with their desire. When a client sees and appreciates that, it’s what leads to implicit trust.”
You have been involved in some high-profile cases. Which did you find most fascinating?
The litigation involving the estate of Arthur Sackler, who was the benefactor of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Sackler Gallery at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., was particularly fascinating. Arthur Sackler decided to appoint seven executors to his estate: his first wife, some children of his first marriage, some children of his second marriage, his lawyer and his third wife. In his naiveté, he thought that these people would work together despite the enormous wealth at stake. After his death, all seven executors retained separate counsel and were debating who would get control of his huge art collection of over 20,000 pieces. It took several years, but I was able to resolve the case successfully for my clients.
How do you nurture relationships to develop a roster of high-profile clients?
Estate litigation relationships develop almost exclusively as referrals from other lawyers because not many lawyers concentrate in this area. Estate litigation is currently about 70% of my practice. It’s really quite a narrow expertise, and often, the lawyers who handled the will have a conflict of interest in an upcoming proceeding. Many of my cases come through referrals from New York City law firms. They typically don’t litigate trust and estate matters and look to refer these matters to someone outside their local peer group. They come to someone like me who has the relevant experience.
I spend time nurturing those attorney relationships through bar association activities and the like.
You’re one of the firm’s founding partners. What do you think makes Farrell Fritz stand out?
First and foremost, it’s the high quality of the lawyers and the reputation that we have built over the years. I’ve been here a long time – more than four decades – and we started off as a firm of four lawyers. Now we’re a full-service firm with teams of lawyers in a variety of practice areas. I think the reputation of the firm among our clients and certainly among other lawyers is that we do high-quality work and are trustworthy people to work with.
What are some of the challenges you have to help your clients face?
One of things you have to help clients realize in estate litigation is that generally the only thing the court can really do is award money. The courts can’t repair emotional damage that may result from a person’s death. It can be very hard for clients who are emotionally involved to separate the personal issues from the legal issues, which the court usually interprets as money issues. So part of my job is to have a reality check as to the goals that can actually be accomplished.