Estate and Trust Litigation

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Attorneys

Eric P. Bacaj

Anne W. Coventry

Nancy G. Fax

Marcia C. Fidis

Oren Goldberg

Morriah H. Horani

N. Alfred (Al) Pasternak

Stephanie Perry

Linda J. Ravdin

James D. Saintvil

Christina K. Scopin

Micah G. Snitzer

Adam P. Swaim

Vicki Viramontes-LaFree

Anne (Jan) W. White

Probate Paralegals

Sharon L. Coop

Anbar A. Hassan

Karen L. Williams

Paralegals

Cassandra E. Brown

Marla V. Wolff

Administrative Staff

Mary A. Nelson

Dinali Weeraman

Nicole A. Ryder

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.

Recognition

  • Super Lawyers – Estate & Trust Litigation (Maryland and DC, 2018-2019)

Blog Posts

July 16, 2019

Saving to Pay for Education Expenses: The Basics of 529 Accounts

One of the largest expenses a family will incur is very likely the cost of a child’s education. In order to encourage early participation in saving for education expenses, Section 529 of the Internal Revenue Code permits states to provide tax-advantaged savings plans (“529 plans”). A 529 plan account may be used to help pay for a beneficiary’s tuition at an elementary or secondary public, private, or religious school (capped at $10,000 per year). It can also be used to pay higher education expenses, such as tuition, fees, books, supplies (including computers and related equipment), and room and board (on-campus and off-campus housing, with certain limitations), at an eligible higher education institution. An eligible higher education institution is generally any college, university, vocational school, or other postsecondary educational institution eligible to participate in a student aid program… MORE >

February 12, 2019

Books for Family Lawyers (Preview)

Parenting Plans: Meeting the Challenges with Facts and Analysis

After a separation or divorce, parents need to have a plan to raise their children. It can be particularly challenging to navigate a fundamentally cooperative undertaking after the parents’ relationship has ended. In Parenting Plans: Meeting the Challenges with Facts and Analysis (American Bar Association 2018), author Daniel Hynan, Ph.D., analyzes some of the issues a parenting plan should address. Dr. Hynan blends individual assessment with scientific studies in making his recommendations. Because nearly a quarter of all children of divorce suffer “significant adjustment problems,” it’s critical to make sure that each parenting plan fits the family. A well-constructed parenting plan can account for scheduling, decision-making, and other contingencies that might arise. Dr. Hynan provides guidance for lawyers, mediators, and other professionals who work with parents seeking to develop parenting plans… MORE >

February 8, 2019

Morriah Horani Talks about Estate and Trust Litigation

Morriah Horani, a partner in the firm, is an experienced trial lawyer who handles disputes about child custody, division of property at divorce, and child and spousal support. Several years ago, she decided to expand her litigation practice to include resolving disputes arising out of estates and trusts. It seemed like a natural expansion of her family law practice as these cases often involve family members at war with each other. For this article Morriah answered some questions about her estate and trust litigation practice.

What is fiduciary litigation or estate and trust litigation?

This is an umbrella term that encompasses disputes about trusts or the estate of a deceased person. Litigation may involve issues stemming from a will, a beneficiary designation, a power of attorney, or a trust. A will dispute, for example, may be about whether a document purporting to be a will… MORE >

February 4, 2019

Marital Agreements and Beneficiary Designations—Sometimes Friends and Sometimes Foes

A marital agreement can take the form of a premarital agreement, a postmarital agreement, or a separation agreement, i.e., an agreement that settles property rights (and other issues) between parties who intend to divorce. A marital agreement may provide for the disposition of assets at death; it may require one or both parties to provide for the other or a child at death after divorce; or it may waive rights at death. When the terms of a marital agreement and a beneficiary designation conflict with each other, the law will either validate or annul the designation, depending on the jurisdiction, the type of asset, and the language of the marital agreement.

The District of Columbia, Virginia, and Maryland all have laws that revoke at divorce either the entire will or the portions benefitting a… MORE >

August 30, 2018

Changing Irrevocable Trusts

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 >

July 26, 2018

OPINION: Electronic Wills? Maybe, But Not Like This

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 >

July 19, 2018

Alimony Ends When Payor Spouse Retires . . . Or Does It?

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 >

July 9, 2018

Seasoned Trial Lawyer Eric P. Bacaj Joins Pasternak & Fidis

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 >

July 2, 2018

Stephanie Perry Becomes P&F’s Managing Partner, Succeeding Nancy Fax

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 >

June 29, 2018

Remembering Nancy G. Fax

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 >