Estate Planning and Administration

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Attorneys

Anne W. Coventry

Oren Goldberg

Blaise S. Hill

Andryse P. Leukeu

Stephanie Perry

Linda J. Ravdin

Christina K. Scopin

Micah G. Snitzer

Adam P. Swaim

Vicki Viramontes-LaFree

Probate Paralegals

Sharon L. Coop

Latoya A. Sanderson

Marla V. Ingram

Bettina Ristau

Karen L. Williams

Family Law Paralegals

Lacinda J. Fields

Administrative Staff

Mary A. Nelson

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 seven trusts and estates lawyers provide comprehensive estate planning for individuals, couples, families, and family businesses. Each of our senior estate planning attorneys brings decades 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.

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
  • Modification and termination of trusts that no longer serve the beneficiaries’ needs or circumstances

Publications

News

Recognition

  • Super Lawyers – Estate Planning & Probate Law (Maryland and DC 2015-2024); Top 100 Attorneys in Maryland (2018-2024); Top 100 Attorneys in DC (2019-2023); Top 50 Women Attorneys in Maryland (2018-2024); Top 50 Women Attorneys in DC (2019-2023)
  • Super Lawyers – Estate Planning & Probate (Maryland and DC, 2015-2024)
  • Washingtonian – Top Financial Advisers (2012, 2014, 2016, 2018, 2019, 2021, 2023)
  • Chambers & Partners, High Net Worth, Notable Practitioner (Washington, DC, 2016-2023)
  • Super Lawyers – Estate Planning & Probate (Maryland 2024); Rising Stars (Maryland and DC, 2017-2021)
  • Washingtonian – Top Financial Advisers (2019, 2021, 2023)
  • Best Lawyers – Trusts & Estates Law (Maryland, 2018-2024)
  • Super Lawyers – Rising Stars – Estate Planning & Probate (Maryland and DC, 2019-21)
  • Best Lawyers – Tax Law (Maryland, 2014-2020)
  • Best Lawyers – Trusts & Estates Law (Maryland, 2015-2020)
  • Washingtonian – Washington’s Best Lawyers: Trusts and Estates (2018, 2020, 2022)
  • Bethesda Magazine – Top Estates Attorneys in Montgomery County (2018)
  • Bethesda Magazine – Rising Stars – Top Estates Attorneys in Montgomery County (2018)
  • Best Lawyers – Lawyer of the Year in Trust and Estates (Washington, DC, 2017)
  • Super Lawyers – Top 100 Lawyers (Maryland, 2012-2014, 2017)
  • Super Lawyers – Top 50 Women Lawyers (Washington, DC, 2017)

Blog Posts

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… MORE >

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 >

    July 5, 2022

    Postmarital Agreements in the DMV— Lessons from Recent Cases

    A postmarital agreement is a contract governing property and support rights between spouses who have no immediate intent to divorce; by contrast a separation agreement settles economic issues between spouses who expect to divorce. Some spouses may want to use a postmarital agreement to address property issues during an ongoing marriage. A postmarital agreement may be appropriate when estranged spouses want to attempt a reconciliation but want to know in advance what their economic rights and obligations will be if the reconciliation does not come to pass. A variety of other circumstances may also cause a spouse to seek a postmarital agreement, such as when parties intended to sign a premarital agreement but ran out of time before the wedding.

    Recent cases from the District,… MORE >

    February 17, 2022

    Treatment of Vermont Civil Union as a Marriage for Purposes of Divorce in Maryland

    In 2020, in a case called Sherman v. Rouse, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals had to decide whether a 2003 Vermont civil union, which pre-dated marriage equality, should be treated the same as a marriage for purposes of granting a divorce and related rights, including spousal support and equitable division of property. One aspect of the problem presented to the trial court was that, unless the parties’ legal status could be treated the same as a marriage, the Maryland court would have no authority to dissolve it; and, because the parties were not residents of Vermont, a Vermont court would have no authority to dissolve it either, leaving them in a rather awkward spot. The other aspect of the problem is that, unless the… MORE >

    February 16, 2022

    Custodial Accounts, 529 College Savings Plans and Divorce

    Common options for families to save for their children’s education are through custodial accounts and 529 savings plans. When a couple divorces, the treatment of these resources needs attention. A recent unreported case from the Maryland Court of Special Appeals points this up. This article highlights issues that should be addressed as part of a settlement agreement or, if necessary, in court.

    UGMA and UTMA Custodial Accounts

    There are two types of custodial accounts, UTMA (Uniform Transfers to Minors Act) and UGMA (Uniform Gifts to Minors Act). UTMA accounts have replaced UGMA accounts in most states and the District of Columbia. Each allows for creation of an account for a specific minor child. An UTMA can hold cash, securities, real estate, and other property. Often… MORE >

    February 15, 2022

    Premarital Agreements and Post-Execution Conduct

    Parties to a premarital agreement are free to make decisions during the marriage that alter their financial circumstances so long as they meet their contractual obligations. Post-execution actions can strengthen the validity of the agreement, result in a claim that the agreement has been revoked, or leave the agreement intact but change the economic outcome.

    Conduct that Strengthens Validity

    The low standards for validity create opportunity for a claim of duress, especially when a proposed agreement is presented close to the wedding or a weaker party does not get legal advice. (These claims rarely succeed.) Contract law acknowledges that a party may ratify a contract, thus waiving a duress claim. Acceptance of the benefits of a contract is generally considered ratification. When the agreement requires… MORE >