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Merrill Sued Over ‘Admitted Failures’ of FA Who Allegedly Gave Bad Advice

By Miriam Rozen December 2, 2020

A plaintiff is relying on a retired Merrill Lynch advisor’s affidavit to corroborate allegations in a professional negligence lawsuit she filed against the wirehouse.

The plaintiff, Jami Handelman Katz, filed her lawsuit on November 25 in a California state court.

In her lawsuit, Katz alleges that in 2010 — prior to the full retirement in 2019 of financial advisor Toby Cooper from Merrill — Cooper errantly deterred his client, Joan Lickerman, from signing a transfer on death form.

The lawsuit describes Katz as a close friend of Lickerman, who died in 2018, and the “intended beneficiary” of Lickerman’s Merrill cash management account.

Lickerman had sought to use the TOD form to designate Katz as the beneficiary for her Merrill cash management account’s assets, the lawsuit alleges.

At the time of Lickerman’s death, that account was valued at roughly $830,000, the lawsuit claims.

Since the account had no signed TOD form when Lickerman died, its assets were transferred to Lickerman’s estate, the lawsuit states. Under California law, since Lickerman had no will, her surviving nephews and niece inherited the cash management account funds, the lawsuit adds.

Katz attached an affidavit that Cooper signed in 2019 to her lawsuit. In it, Cooper corroborates some of the lawsuit’s allegations.

In 2010, Cooper advised Lickerman that while she could “technically” use a TOD form to designate Katz as the account’s beneficiary, such a designation was “usually for married persons,” according to both the lawsuit and his affidavit.

But the Merrill TOD form for the cash management account allowed for single or married persons to use it effectively, the lawsuit alleges.

Had Lickerman disregarded Cooper’s advice and used the TOD form, Katz would have received the cash management account’s assets after Lickerman died, the lawsuit alleges.

“This case is about the admitted failures of a financial advisor,” Katz’s lawsuit states.

“Merrill gave bad advice to Ms. Lickerman, which ultimately resulted in Jami [Katz] not being the beneficiary,” the lawsuit alleges.

Cooper “advised Ms. Lickerman against using the ‘Transfer on Death’ designation,” according to his affidavit. That advice was “wrong and negligent,” the lawsuit alleges.

Cooper also told Lickerman if she instead drafted a will, that would be the “surest way” to have the funds distributed to Katz, the affidavit states.

In 2010, Lickerman had designated Katz as the beneficiary for her Merrill retirement account, according to both the lawsuit and Cooper’s affidavit.

“I am certain,” Cooper’s affidavit states, that Lickerman wanted Katz to be the sole beneficiary on her cash management account, too.

Cooper worked for Merrill Lynch for 25 years, starting his retirement in 2016, but phasing out and continuing to consult about his former clients with advisors who inherited the accounts until 2019, according to his affidavit, which corresponds with his BrokerCheck record.

In addition to negligence, Katz’s lawsuit also makes claims of breach of fiduciary duty and negligent misrepresentation against Merrill.

With her lawsuit, Katz seeks to have Merrill pay restitution, compensatory and exemplary damages, as well as litigation costs.

A Merrill spokesperson declined to comment for this story.

Cooper did not respond to a LinkedIn message seeking comments for this story, and a phone number listed in his public records was no longer in service.

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Tags:  Regulatory/legal issues , Estate planning , Family wealth/family office , LinkedIn , Merrill Lynch

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