Estate Planning and Administration

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Attorneys

Anne W. Coventry

Nancy G. Fax

Marcia C. Fidis

Brooke I. Hettig

Morriah H. Horani

N. Alfred (Al) Pasternak

Stephanie T. Perry

Linda J. Ravdin

James D. Saintvil

Christina K. Scopin

Micah G. Snitzer

Adam P. Swaim

Alex S. Tanouye

Vicki Viramontes-LaFree

Anne (Jan) W. White

Probate Paralegals

Sharon L. Coop

Anbar A. Hassan

Ann M. Potts

Suzanne Reno

Karen L. Williams

Paralegals

Kadie M. Marks

Marla V. Wolff

Administrative Staff

Mary A. Nelson

Nicole M. Ricketts

Nicole A. Ryder

Michelle G. Singleton

Estate planning and administration services above and beyond the ordinary. We have the breadth of knowledge and depth of experience to help our clients accomplish their estate planning goals. Our eight trusts and estates lawyers provide comprehensive estate planning for individuals, couples, families, and family businesses. Each of our senior estate planning attorneys brings more than 30 years of experience to wealth transfer planning, offering a coordinated approach that goes well beyond simply drafting legal documents.

We give special attention to real estate interests, closely held businesses and other enterprises. We combine tax expertise, business knowledge and common sense to help protect and preserve wealth for generations to come. Many of our clients have done well and are interested in giving back through charitable contributions. We counsel our clients as to the most effective and tax-efficient ways to benefit charitable organizations. We have significant expertise in establishing private foundations, assisting with the creation of donor-advised funds, and forming charitable trusts of all kinds.

We are attuned to the need to protect and preserve assets so that our clients’ hard-earned resources can be distributed as they wish. We regularly counsel clients on the best ways to avoid unneccessarily exposing assets to claims of creditors. Using trusts and other legal arrangements, we provide for the protection of assets from claims in divorce. We also counsel clients about appropriate arrangements to benefit a family member who is unable to manage his or her own affairs, including the use of special needs trusts. The ever-changing estate tax laws present both challenges and opportunities. We keep abreast of federal and state estate and gift tax developments so that we can employ the most up-to-date tax planning strategies.

We are experienced in working with all kinds of families, including blended families, domestic partners, and same-sex couples. We work closely with our clients’ other advisors to insure that their overall plans are well-coordinated.

There are a host of matters that require attention after the death of a family member. The deceased person’s will must be probated. The personal representative of the estate must identify and value the assets of the estate and evaluate claims of creditors. A trust may need to be administered or wound up. There may be claims for life insurance or retirement benefits.

Our experienced attorneys, along with our five probate paralegals, handle all aspects of estate administration, including the preparation of estate tax returns and, when necessary, estate tax audits. We work closely with our clients’ accountants to coordinate the preparation of all required income tax returns.

We know that the period just after a family member’s death can be stressful. Many people find the process daunting.  We explain and coordinate the process and we keep our clients informed about what the next step is going to be, each step of the way. We assist the fiduciary to carry out his or her obligations, advising as to the legal requirements for administering the estate or trust. Our services include advising fiduciaries about their legal obligations regarding managing an estate’s assets and paying its creditors.

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.

Our services include:

  • Preparing wills and trusts that incorporate specific estate planning needs, including generation-skipping trusts, special needs trusts, charitable trusts, marital trusts, and asset protection trusts
  • Advice on selecting appropriate fiduciaries, including personal representatives, trustees, and guardians
  • Comprehensive guidance on designating beneficiaries of life insurance policies and retirement accounts
  • Business succession planning, including setting up the business structure during one’s lifetime and preparing for the disposition of the business at death
  • Charitable gift planning, including charitable lead trusts, charitable remainder trusts, private foundations, and other transfers to charity
  • Asset protection planning, including advice about titling assets, designing trusts to protect assets from creditors, and implementing other transactions designed to preserve the family’s wealth
  • Planning for potential incapacity through the use of revocable living trusts, powers of attorney, standby guardians for minor children, and advance health care directives
  • Assisting clients with the transfer of vacation homes from one generation to the next, in ways that are tax-efficient and designed to promote family harmony
  • Working with our divorce and family law attorneys to provide comprehensive premarital planning as well as post-nuptial and domestic partnership agreements for opposite sex and same-sex couples
  • Comprehensive representation of personal representatives in the administration of decedents’ estates
  • Preparation of estate and gift tax returns
  • Representing clients in connection with estate and gift tax audits
  • Advising trustees on the proper administration of trusts and defending trustees whose actions are being challenged
  • Modification and termination of trusts that no longer serve the beneficiaries’ needs or circumstances
  • Representing beneficiaries and fiduciaries in will and trust disputes

Publications

Recognition

  • Washingtonian – Top 30 Lawyers in the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Area
  • Washingtonian – Washington’s Best Lawyers for Trusts and Estates
  • Washingtonian – Top Money Advisor for Estate Planning
  • Washingtonian – Top Financial Planners in the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Area
  • Super Lawyers – Estate Planning & Probate Law (Maryland, 2007-2018)
  • Super Lawyers – Top 50 Women Lawyers; Estate Planning & Probate (Maryland, 2009, 2012-2017)
  • Super Lawyers – Rising Stars – Estate Planning & Probate (Maryland, 2013-2016)
  • Super Lawyers – Rising Stars – Estate & Trust Litigation (Maryland, 2016)
  • Bethesda Magazine – Top Wills & Estates Lawyers in Montgomery County
  • Marquis Who’s Who in American Law
  • Marquis Who’s Who in the World
  • Maryland State Bar Association Section of Taxation Tax Excellence Award (2004)
  • Accredited Estate Planner Designee of the National Association of Estate Planners & Councils
  • Chambers & Partners, High Net Worth, Notable Practitioner (Washington, DC, 2016-2017)
  • Best Lawyers – Lawyer of the Year in Trust and Estates (Washington, DC, 2017)
  • Best Lawyers – Trusts & Estates Law (Maryland, 2015-2018)
  • Super Lawyers – Rising Stars – Estate Planning & Probate (Maryland, 2017)
  • Super Lawyers – Top 100 Lawyers (Maryland, 2012-2014, 2017)
  • Super Lawyers – Top 50 Women Lawyers (Washington, DC, 2017)
  • Best Lawyers – Trusts & Estates Law (Maryland, 2006-2018)
  • Best Lawyers – Tax Law (Maryland, 2014-2018)
  • Best Lawyers – Trusts & Estates Law (Maryland, 2018)
  • Super Lawyers – Estate Planning & Probate Law (Washington, DC, 2007-2017)
  • Super Lawyers – Rising Stars – Estate Planning & Probate (Maryland, 2015-2018)
  • Super Lawyers – Rising Stars – Estate Planning & Probate (Washington, DC, 2015-2017)

Blog Posts

October 17, 2017

“To my descendants, per stirpes…” (or… How do we pass the Packers’ tickets to our grandkids?)

Years ago, I described to a close friend (let’s call her Cathy) the difference between a division among descendants per stirpes and a division among the same descendants per capita at each generation.  In the midst of my explanation, Cathy suddenly exclaimed, “Oh!  You mean like the Packers’ tickets?”  This was a Eureka! moment; yes, it’s exactly like the Packers’ tickets.

One very important lesson I learned attending college in Wisconsin is that Packers’ tickets are a sacred thing.  The population of Green Bay is 105,000.  After recent expansions, Lambeau Field now seats 81,435, but season tickets are still very hard to come by.  For many, the surest way to get them is to inherit them.

Back in the days of Bart Starr and Vince… MORE >

May 24, 2017

How Divorce Affects Your Estate Planning Documents

After a divorce, the last thing on most people’s minds is contacting their estate planning attorney. However, if you fail to revise your estate planning documents after your divorce, your former spouse might still be a beneficiary of your estate and may continue to be a fiduciary under your will, revocable trust, power of attorney, or advance health care directive. Below is a table that summarizes how divorce affects these documents under D.C., Maryland, and Virginia law.

  D.C. Maryland Virginia Wills Divorce and final property settlement revokes the entire will. If the testator does not execute a new will, or republish his or her old will, he or she will die intestate. Divorce revokes all provisions of a will relating to the former spouse,… MORE >

November 3, 2016

Protecting an Inheritance: Premarital Agreements and Trusts

“My daughter is getting married. Does she need a premarital agreement?”

Estate planning attorneys hear this question more and more frequently – generally from clients concerned about the assets they plan to leave their children. Numerous wealth transfer predictions estimate that trillions of dollars will pass over the next decade from a generation that earned the money to their children who did not earn it. Parents (and grandparents) may want to assure that the inheritance the child receives, whether cash, real estate, a stock portfolio or an interest in a family business, will be stewarded carefully. Parents usually hope that the inherited assets will ultimately pass at the child’s death to the child’s children or grandchildren rather than to a child’s surviving spouse, however… MORE >

October 14, 2016

Nancy Fax named Lawyer of the Year in Trusts & Estates for DC Area for 2017

Best Lawyers named partner Nancy Fax the Trust and Estates Lawyer of the Year in DC, Maryland and Virginia. Because the publication uses peer nominations to develop its selective list, we are especially proud of this recognition. Congratulations, Nancy!

Additional Pasternak & Fidis attorneys were recognized as best lawyers in Maryland in their respective fields:

  • Jan White in Collaborative Law: Family Law
  • Jan, Vicki Viramontes-LaFree and Linda Ravdin in Family Law
  • Nancy, Al Pasternak and Marcia Fidis in Trusts and Estates
May 27, 2016

When Your Child Turns 18

18 is a momentous birthday.  Your child can register to vote!  Your son (but not your daughter) must register for the Selective Service.  Depending on which jurisdiction you live in, your child may become entitled to unilateral control over that UGMA/UTMA custodial account that you funded years ago.

You have spent years managing things for your child; whether that makes you a helicopter parent or his “handler,” certainly you have been the most devoted administrative assistant your child will ever have.  But now, your signature is no longer adequate, and you no longer have access to your child’s health information or authority to make medical decisions.  Your son is heading off to college, the mail brings dozens of credit card applications addressed to him, and… MORE >

May 16, 2016

Maryland enacts laws on Trusts and Digital Assets to take effect in October 2016

For a long time, the rule in Maryland has been that a divorce revokes the provisions of a will that benefit the former spouse, but we did not have the same rule for revocable trusts.  Beginning October 1, 2016, the same rule will apply to revocable trusts—divorce will revoke those provisions of the trust that benefit the former spouse.

The Maryland Trust Act will, beginning October 1, 2016, include language allowing interested persons to enter into a binding, non-judicial settlement agreement with respect to trust matters.  This means that, without having to go to court, the trustee and beneficiaries of a trust can get together and agree to resolve trust-related issues that they would previously have had to resolve in a court proceeding.  This should… MORE >

May 11, 2016

The PRINCE Act and “Name and Likeness” Rights: Sword and Shield?

Lawmakers in Minnesota are acting quickly to pass the PRINCE Act, which is intended to protect one’s – specifically, Prince’s – name, voice, and likeness from unauthorized use for a 50-year period after death.  The law is aimed at protecting Prince’s legacy and the right of his estate to control future marketing of and revenues from his music and other artistic media.  This pending Minnesota legislation is discussed here:  http://blogs.mprnews.org/capitol-view/2016/05/legislature-hurries-to-aid-prince-heirs/.

Interestingly, the IRS and the Estate of Michael Jackson are in the early stages of high-stakes estate tax litigation, and the IRS appears to be basing its case on the value of Jackson’s “name and likeness” property rights under California law at the time of Jackson’s death in 2009.  This April 2016 article from Billboard… MORE >

February 15, 2016

Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (RUFADAA): Online Tools

When it is enacted in state legislatures this year, RUFADAA will give effect to a user’s express instructions regarding whether or not a fiduciary should have access to the user’s digital assets.  Users can provide those instructions in their traditional estate planning documents, via some other record, or via use of an online tool.  An “online tool” is an account-specific feature the online service provider offers to its users to enable a user to express his or her wishes regarding that account.  At present, we know of only two online tools—Facebook’s Legacy Contact and Google’s Inactive Account Manager.

Facebook’s Legacy Contact permits a user to designate another Facebook user to as a Legacy Contact after the user’s death, respond to new friend requests, write a… MORE >

February 12, 2016

Update on Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets

Your personal representative (the executor of your will) will need to read your emails.  This may not be something you’ve thought about before, but it’s true.  You get bank statements, bills, and even tax forms delivered to you only by email.  You have automatic, recurring payments set up from your checking account each month.  You may have important information stored in the cloud.  Your personal representative must marshal and inventory all of your assets, pay bills and taxes, report to the probate court and tax authorities, and distribute your estate as you direct in your will.  She cannot do that job properly—as she is required by law to do—without all relevant information and authority to manage your digital footprint.

Under current law, your personal representative… MORE >

February 12, 2016

Enforcing Death Provisions in Premarital and Postmarital Agreements

A premarital agreement is a contract between prospective spouses that defines each spouse’s property rights and obligations in the event of death or dissolution.  A postmarital agreement is a contract between spouses who have no immediate plans to divorce and can do the same things that a premarital agreement can do.  Some agreements require a party to make specific provisions for a surviving spouse, such as a cash bequest, transfer of an asset, such as a home, or a portion of the deceased spouse’s estate.  When a deceased spouse is obligated to make provisions for a surviving spouse, and fails to do so, the surviving spouse must take legal action to enforce the contract.

How Assets Pass to Surviving Spouses at Death

A decedent’s property… MORE >