Estate Planning and Administration

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Attorneys

Roxy Araghi

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

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

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 nine 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 four 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 – Top Financial Planners in the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Area
  • Super Lawyers – Estate Planning & Probate Law (Maryland and DC, 2007-2019); Top 25 Women Attorneys in Maryland (2007-09, 2011); Top 50 Women in Washington, DC (2008-09, 2011)
  • Super Lawyers – Top 50 Women Lawyers; Estate Planning & Probate (Maryland, 2009, 2012-2017)
  • 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, 2016-2019)
  • Best Lawyers – Lawyer of the Year in Trust and Estates (Washington, DC, 2017)
  • Best Lawyers – Trusts & Estates Law (Maryland, 2015-2020)
  • Super Lawyers – Rising Stars – Estate Planning & Probate (Maryland and DC, 2017-2019)
  • Super Lawyers – Top 100 Lawyers (Maryland, 2012-2014, 2017)
  • Super Lawyers – Top 50 Women Lawyers (Washington, DC, 2017)
  • Best Lawyers – Trusts & Estates Law (Maryland, 2006-2020)
  • Best Lawyers – Tax Law (Maryland, 2014-2020)
  • Best Lawyers – Trusts & Estates Law (Maryland, 2018-2020)
  • Super Lawyers – Estate Planning & Probate Law (Washington, DC, 2007-2018)
  • Super Lawyers – Estate Planning & Probate (Maryland and DC, 2015-2019)
  • Super Lawyers – Rising Stars – Estate Planning & Probate (Washington, DC, 2015-2018)
  • Bethesda Magazine – Top Estates Attorneys in Montgomery County (2018)
  • Bethesda Magazine – Rising Stars – Top Estates Attorneys in Montgomery County (2018)
  • Super Lawyers – Rising Stars – Estate Planning & Probate (Maryland and DC, 2019)
  • Super Lawyers – Estate Planning & Probate Law (Maryland and DC 2015-2019); Top 100 Attorneys in DC (2019); Top 100 Attorneys in Maryland (2018-19); Top 50 Women Attorneys in Maryland (2018-19)
  • Super Lawyers – Estate Planning & Probate Law (Maryland and DC, 2007-2019)
  • Washingtonian – Washington, DC’s Best Lawyers: Trusts and Estates (2018)
  • Washingtonian – Top Financial Advisers (2012, 2014, 2016, 2018)

Blog Posts

July 18, 2019

Trusts and Divorce

Trusts are an important tool that families can use to protect assets and pass wealth to future generations. When the beneficiary of a trust is facing divorce, he or she will be concerned that the trust assets and income may be vulnerable to a spousal claim. Such a claim can include equitable division of property, spousal or child support, and an award of legal fees and costs.

Whether and to what extent a beneficiary’s interest in a trust can be subject to a spousal claim at divorce depends on:

  • Whether the trust is revocable or irrevocable;
  • Whether the divorcing spouse is the settlor (i.e., the creator) of the trust, or whether a third party established the trust;
  • Whether the spouse-settlor funded the trust with marital or nonmarital property, or some of each;
  • Whether the… MORE >
July 17, 2019

Section 529 College Savings Accounts and Divorce

Many couples establish savings for the college education of their children. A Section 529 account is an attractive vehicle for these savings, as discussed in Adam Swaim’s article. What happens to a 529 account if the parents divorce? The appeals courts of D.C., Maryland, and Virginia do not yet appear to have wrestled with a parental dispute about a 529 account in a divorce. Only a few cases from courts around the country have done so. They offer some guidance to parties and their lawyers as to how our courts may handle a dispute over a 529 account that arises between divorcing parents. More importantly, they point out issues that parties should address when negotiating a marital settlement agreement where they have a Section 529 account for a child.

Some key legal aspects of Section 529 accounts:

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 >