Pasternak & Fidis Reporter

November 21, 2023

What Your Future Probate Paralegal Would Like You to Know

BY BETTINA RISTAU, PROBATE PARALEGAL

When someone dies, getting down to the business of administering the estate (or trust) can seem like a herculean task, especially while grieving. Below are observations made by the probate paralegal team here at Pasternak & Fidis in response to common client assumptions that we share in hopes of easing that burden for your loved ones when the time comes.

My estate documents are signed – I am all set!

Estate planning does not end when the will and trust instrument have been signed. Your estate planning attorney has created a customized plan for you and your family after considering your family structure, assets, values, and tax planning objectives. Your estate plan is, in effect, a roadmap to ensure that your wishes are carried out upon your death. In that regard, your estate planning attorney will provide you with specific instructions for titling assets, funding trusts, and completing beneficiary designation forms for life insurance policies, retirement accounts, and annuities.

Your future probate paralegal would like you to know that when you follow through with those instructions during your lifetime, you are ensuring that your wishes as set forth in your documents will be carried out. Accordingly, please be sure to let your estate planning attorney know right away of any material changes in your assets or family composition or if you encounter any obstacles completing the follow-up tasks related to your plan.

Oh, my goodness – there is so much to do!

Your future paralegal would like you to know that at your death, every asset in which you have an interest as of your death must be identified, valued, analyzed, and administered. Your valuable jewelry has not seen the light of day since your 20th wedding anniversary. Would someone in your family enjoy any of those pieces now? Uncle Fester’s grandfather clock that has been in the family for generations is only collecting dust. Perhaps one of your children or friends has just the spot for it in their home.

Do you need to maintain separate $15,000 checking accounts at three different banks? Perhaps they can be consolidated.

You haven’t used your timeshare in years (and are continuing to pay the maintenance fees). Is that something you can transfer or terminate now? Where is the deed (or contract)? (Timeshares can be, truly, among the most troublesome and time consuming—no pun intended—assets to deal with in an administration.)

Why do you ask for so many account statements?

The information the probate paralegal requests provides the paralegal and attorney with a comprehensive view of the decedent’s assets and titling information, all of which, together, allows us to provide accurate advice and counsel. For example, we utilize the account statements covering date of death to discern date of death values and asset titling. With that information, we are able to determine whether there is a required estate tax filing. Estate tax return filings are deadline-driven, and the sooner we know whether one is required to be filed, the better. The asset titling information also allows us to determine the nature of the post-death administration; specifically, whether a probate proceeding is required, and the type of proceeding to recommend.

During the course of administration, the monthly account statements provide us with information regarding deposits made, assets collected, and expenses paid. We use this information to prepare estate tax returns and formal accountings, as applicable, and to coordinate with accountants for income tax reporting. This information is also used for certain court filings. At the end of an administration, account statements enable us to project cash needs for any remaining taxes and administration expenses, estimate a cushion for unexpected liabilities, and calculate distributions to beneficiaries.

Your future probate paralegal would like you to know that when requested information is provided promptly during the administration process, we can proceed with your matter efficiently.

What if I am the surviving spouse?

Joint assets that pass to a surviving spouse by right of survivorship vest automatically, by operation of law, in the surviving spouse at the death of the first spouse. Often, for sentimental reasons and/or because it can be burdensome, the surviving spouse may not go to the trouble of removing the deceased spouse’s name from the asset (e.g., real property, a bank account, an investment account, or a vehicle). Please discuss with your estate planning attorney whether it is appropriate in your situation to update the titling of any property owned jointly with your late spouse.

Your future probate paralegal would like you to know that when you remove your spouse’s name from an asset and, in the process, update the Social Security Number used for that asset’s tax reporting (i.e., from your late spouse’s to your own), the post-mortem administration process at your later death will be more straightforward because there will be no need to confirm the death of the pre-deceased spouse.

Collectively, our probate paralegals (Sharon, Marla, Karen, and Bettina) have over 55 years of probate and trust administration experience. Above all, they would like you to know that, when the time comes, Pasternak & Fidis stands ready to assist your family through the process.


October 11, 2023

UPDATE: Maryland Divorce Law Reform

The Maryland Legislature has continued a process, begun several years ago, of modernizing Maryland divorce law. Amendments became effective October 1, 2023. The Code changes eliminated fault grounds of divorce, repealed limited divorce, and created another no-fault ground for absolute divorce.

Until the most recent Code revisions, a party filing for divorce could allege both fault grounds (adultery; desertion) and no-fault grounds (separation; mutual consent). One of the major changes is the elimination of fault grounds, bringing Maryland in line with the growing trend towards no-fault grounds as the exclusive basis for divorce. Parties can still allege fault as one of the factors in the determination of property division and spousal support.

With the recent Code amendments, Maryland now has three possible grounds for an… MORE >

September 8, 2023

Entities Face Looming Reporting Requirements—Preparing for the Knowns and Unknowns of the Corporate Transparency Act

The Corporate Transparency Act (“CTA”), which takes effect on January 1, 2024, requires certain small- and medium-sized US corporations, LPs, LLCs, and similar closely held entities to report certain company information and beneficial ownership information to the US Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”).  The CTA is expected to apply to 32 million entities who, until now, have not been subject to any similar federal reporting requirements.

The CTA requires “reporting companies” to file a report listing:

  • Reporting company’s legal name, trade name, DBA, address for principal place of business, and tax identification number.
  • Each beneficial owner’s legal name, address, date of birth, and unique identification number from an “acceptable identification document” such as a driver’s license or passport and a copy of… MORE >

April 24, 2023

Death and the Automobile

Chances are, you own a motor vehicle. It is less likely that you have spent much time thinking about what happens to that motor vehicle when you die. There are many emotions that come with the death of a loved one, most of which cannot be avoided. Ensuring that your assets transfer easily at your death can ease the administrative part of the grieving process, which may be particularly important for motor vehicles because many households rely on them every day.

If your vehicle is titled in your name alone, then it will be transferred according to your will as part of probate. Probate is the process of administering a will when someone dies and involves the appointment of a personal representative or executor by… MORE >

April 21, 2023

Divorce, Pensions and Avoiding Pitfalls in Dividing Them

A divorcing party may have acquired employer-sponsored retirement benefits during marriage. In most states, retirement benefits earned during marriage are marital property and can be divided at divorce. A court order is required to transfer a share of an employee’s retirement assets to the non-employee spouse. This article focuses on private sector and civilian federal government defined benefit pension plans, those plans that pay a monthly annuity during retirement, the scenarios that can create problems for divorcing spouses, and what to do to avoid these problems.

Seven Scenarios to Watch out for:

  • Employee-Spouse Is Working at Divorce and Retirement Is Far Away. A spouse may be working at the time of divorce and will be eligible for a pension at retirement, but retirement is many… MORE >

  • April 20, 2023

    Jan White Retires

    Jan White retired at the end of 2022 after 50 years of practicing law, 32 of them at Pasternak & Fidis as a family lawyer. In her early years of law practice, she was a trial lawyer at Legal Aid in Durham, NC, and then at Hogan Lovells (then Hogan & Hartson) in DC. She and her husband had moved to DC because of the wealth of legal jobs for them both at a time when law schools had only recently begun to admit substantial numbers of women and there were still questions as to whether women lawyers would be encouraged in their careers.

    When the Carter Administration came into office, she joined the Commerce Department as Assistant to the General Counsel, then Assistant to… MORE >