Sometimes disputes arise under a will or trust, such as a contest about the validity of a will, a dispute about the meaning of the terms of a will or trust, or an action against a trustee. When that happens, we work to resolve the dispute out of court, if possible. When the dispute cannot be resolved by settlement, the firm’s seasoned trial lawyers work with our experienced trusts and estates lawyers to take the case to court.
In 2011, we won a ground-breaking ruling in the highest court of the District of Columbia. In this case, the personal representative had relied upon the estate’s attorney to file an estate tax return on time, but the attorney had failed to do so. The appeals court held that the personal representative was not personally liable to the heirs of the estate for the mistakes made by the attorney. Our advocacy led to this important ruling that clearly delineates the duties of the personal representative and the attorney for an estate.
When is a door not a door? (Answer: When it is ajar.)
When is an irrevocable trust not irrevocable? Answer: Pretty much all the time. That is, perhaps the irrevocable trust cannot be revoked per se but, with a little creative thinking and cooperation, it may be possible to modify, decant, or terminate an irrevocable trust. This is not the kind of news that makes headlines (except in our newsletter), but great changes are afoot in trust planning.
In the past 18 years, more than 30 jurisdictions (including DC, MD, and VA) have enacted a version of the Uniform Trust Code, shifting trust law away from arcane rules buried in old court decisions and into the modern era. Many jurisdictions (again including DC, MD, and VA) have also revised laws that used to prohibit extremely long-term trusts,… MORE >
B22-0169, the Electronic Signature Authorization Act of 2017, is pending before the DC Council, and it is dreadful. The Uniform Law Commission (ULC), relevant sections of the DC Bar, and a number of DC Fellows of the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel (ACTEC) have submitted, formally or informally, written opposition to the bill. We have it on good authority that this bill is unlikely to pass, and we hope that is the case.
Are electronic wills coming? Of course they are. Last year in Australia, an unsent text message was accepted for probate as someone’s last will and testament. (Unsent! With an emoji in it!) In July of this year, the Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed a trial court decision to accept for… MORE >
Family lawyers are increasingly hearing from divorced clients who are getting ready to retire or have retired and who have a spousal support obligation or a right to receive support under a court order. A court order may result from a trial or as part of a settlement agreement adopted by a court in the judgment of divorce. Some payors think alimony payments automatically end at retirement, or that a court will decide to terminate payments at retirement as a matter of course, but this is not necessarily so.
Court-ordered spousal support terminates automatically only on the death of either party or—in Maryland and Virginia, but not the District—upon remarriage of the recipient. When a court orders indefinite spousal support, i.e., support without a predetermined… MORE >
In June 2018, Eric P. Bacaj joined the firm as an associate after eight years as a criminal prosecutor: almost four years in the Bronx District Attorney’s Office and four years as an Assistant United States Attorney in Charleston, West Virginia. As a former prosecutor he brings a wealth of courtroom experience to his new position with the firm’s Divorce and Family Law Group.
With nearly all of his extended family in the DC area, joining Pasternak & Fidis was a homecoming for Eric. At Denison University, in Granville, Ohio, he got an undergraduate degree in Political Science. In his second year, he took a course on the Supreme Court from Susan Gellman, a civil rights lawyer, who taught it as a typical law school course, with a law school casebook and the Socratic method, requiring students to make legal arguments and challenging… MORE >
Stephanie Perry became the firm’s managing partner in June, following the death of Nancy Fax. Stephanie joined Pasternak & Fidis in 2010, after practicing law for six years in Atlanta, and immediately proved herself an invaluable addition to the firm’s estates and trusts department. Eight years later, with all in agreement that she had the right skills to step into the job, her colleagues unanimously elected her as Nancy’s successor.
Nancy joined the firm as a partner in 2001 and succeeded Marcia Fidis as managing partner in 2004, a post which Marcia had filled for 18 years. Several years ago, Nancy, thinking ahead to a day when she would step down, identified Stephanie as the best person to succeed her. The partners agreed. Stephanie began to work with Nancy to plan for the succession.
The succession plan had… MORE >
On June 4, 2018, we lost our partner, friend and mentor, Nancy Fax. Nancy’s family lost a mother, companion, daughter, aunt, sister, advisor, and friend. Nancy died less than a month after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She faced death the way she faced everything—with calm and grace. She told her law partners, after sharing the news of her diagnosis, “I’ve had a really great life. I only wish I could have another 30 years.”
Nancy would have celebrated her 65th birthday on August 13. Working as she did from her home in Maine for the last few summers, Nancy would have enjoyed an early sunrise followed by an invigorating workout, as she did every day, taking care of herself as she prepared for a day of taking care of her clients. Even at her vacation home, Nancy busily and… MORE >
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act has eliminated the tax treatment of alimony that has been in place for more than 75 years. Under the old law, alimony is deductible from the income of the payor and includible in the income of the recipient, provided the parties comply with the specific requirements of the Internal Revenue Code (I.R.C.). Effective January 1, 2019, under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, parties will no longer have the option to enter into an agreement for taxable alimony nor will court-ordered alimony be deductible from the payor’s income and includible in the recipient’s income. Some alimony obligations created prior to January 1, 2019, may receive alimony tax treatment under the old law; others may not.
An existing premarital agreement… MORE >
In December 2017, Congress rushed to pass the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act: a 503-page document that drastically alters several of the popular tax credits and deductions around which many divorcing families structure their financial planning. This first major tax reform in decades affects taxes beginning in 2018 and will have a significant impact on divorcing families. Family lawyers are still working on understanding the nuances of the changes and figuring out how to settle cases while some of the uncertainties in the application of the new law are being resolved by the Treasury Department.
Even the most amicable divorce can be expensive; it simply costs more to maintain two households. Through effective use of the tax code, however, family law attorneys, often working alongside… MORE >
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (the “Act”), signed into law at the end of December, includes major changes to the Internal Revenue Code. The Act is the most sweeping tax legislation to be enacted in decades and affects nearly all American taxpayers. Under the Act, the federal estate, generation-skipping transfer (GST) and gift tax exemption amounts have increased dramatically.
The estate tax exemption amount is the amount that an individual can pass at death to anyone without incurring estate tax, and the GST tax exemption amount is the amount that an individual can pass to grandchildren and more remote descendants without incurring GST tax. In addition to the estate tax exemption, there is the unlimited marital deduction, which permits an individual to transfer an… MORE >
The doubling of the federal estate tax exemption under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act has moved many wealthy Americans away from the impact of the federal estate tax. However, state estate taxes and inheritance taxes remain a factor in estate planning for residents of a number of states, including Maryland and the District of Columbia. Moreover, a state level estate or inheritance tax may be imposed on real estate located in a state with a tax even when the decedent resides elsewhere.
Currently, only a handful of jurisdictions have an estate tax. These include the District of Columbia and Maryland as well as Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington. The District of Columbia’s estate tax exemption… MORE >