John R. Morken is an estate litigation attorney who practices in Surrogate’s Courts and other trial and appellate courts throughout New York State. He handles matters including probate contests, discovery proceedings, accountings and commercial litigation related to trusts and estates. John frequently lectures and writes on various estate litigation topics of interest throughout the region.
What have been some of your most memorable transactions?
There have been many, but two quickly come to mind. In one case, a mother passed away, leaving her son 50% of the family business and her two daughters 25% each. Her daughters sued, saying that their mother had always indicated that each child would receive an equal share of the business, and that the brother coerced their mother or committed fraud. However, the Surrogate’s Court, and later the Appellate Division, sided with our client, the brother, saying that the mother was of sound mind and not subject to any undue influence or fraud when she had made the changes to her will.
Another case dealt with the estate of a lawyer who was a partner in a firm. His surviving spouse sued, saying she was owed half the value of the firm, including the value of any pending contingency fee cases. The Surrogate’s Court found that while she was owed more than the value of the life insurance policy the company had on her husband, the decedent’s estate was only owed his share of already settled cases, without any value being added for open, pending cases.
“To me, success is doing everything I can to help a client achieve his or her goal – or get as close to that goal as possible.”
You handle many types of proceedings. How do you balance clients’ concerns with their goals?
In all these proceedings, I am essentially dealing with clients in contexts that are very emotional, often involving family problems and disputes over money and property. I have to be good listener. I first have clients articulate their own goals. Then I give advice in a way so that the client can see what’s realistic in terms of achievement, defining what success should look like – in other words, our road map. Once there’s a plan in place, my client starts feeling more comfortable, which is especially important in these situations where they are often emotionally distraught.
How do you give back to the community?
I’m very active in my church – that’s the way I give back. I went on a reconnaissance mission to Haiti before we sent a group there to work at a clinic; I’ve also been on missions to West Africa on two occasions. We help people both globally and locally. Locally, the church sponsors a food bank and a thrift store.
Why should clients choose Farrell Fritz?
Whether it’s a small or big matter, we put together a team of lawyers to achieve the goal. Our estate litigation team is among the best in New York, so we have the in-house expertise and resources to effectively handle big cases involving many opponents, thousands of documents and dozens of depositions. At the same time, we maintain a high quality of representation – even on smaller cases. We put together the right combination of lawyers who are able to address the concerns of the client.