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Probate and Fiduciary Counsel Practice


Virginia estate planning law firm with a difference

At Frederick J. Tansill & Associates, LLC, we have a particular way of conducting our probate and fiduciary counsel practice that we believe is different from the way many other firms and lawyers conduct similar practices. We want to be sure you know how we approach our professional responsibilities so that our experience and commitment will meet your expectations.

We have practiced under Virginia, District of Columbia, Maryland, Arizona, and Texas law, and are experienced probate lawyers in all of those jurisdictions. Our probate practice for domiciliaries of Virginia, D.C. and Maryland frequently involves us with ancillary administration proceedings in other states in which the decedent owned real estate, e.g., Florida, Delaware, North and South Carolina. We have contacts and the means to identify local counsel to assist us in these ancillary proceedings in every state as well as overseas, and we have established relationships in a number of locales.

Aspects of Probate and Trust Counsel Practice

We counsel and represent clients with respect to the following proceedings and requirements (partial listing):

  • Qualification of Personal Representatives of Decedent's Estate (Executors, Administrators), Trustees
  • Fiduciary Bonding
  • Proving the Will
  • Notice to Interested Parties
  • Notice to Creditors
  • Inventories
  • Accounts
  • Waivers and Consents to Avoid the Requirements of Inventory and Accounts
  • Debts and Demands Hearing
  • Order to Show Cause and Other Proceedings and Procedures to Relieve the Fiduciary of Personal Liability for Claims Against the Estate
  • Will Interpretation and Construction
  • Trust Interpretation and Construction
  • Guardianships, Conservatorships
  • Incapacity Proceedings
  • Income Tax Advice and Assistance with Income Tax Audits
  • Federal Estate Tax Advice and Compliance, Preparation of and Audit of the Federal Estate Tax Return
  • Federal Gift Tax Advice and Compliance, Preparation of and Audit of the Federal Gift Tax Return
  • State Estate Tax/Inheritance Tax Advice and Compliance, Preparation of and Audit of the State Estate Tax/Inheritance Tax Return
  • Post-Mortem Tax Planning: Evaluate and Recommend Strategy Regarding the Range of Tax Planning Opportunities and Elections, including Disclaimers (which may be partial or complete disclaimers of property held as joint tenants or as tenants by the entirety with rights of survivorship) and the establishment of Qualified Domestic Trusts (QDOTs) for surviving non-citizen spouses
  • Defend Claims and Suits on Behalf of the Estate or Trust or Fiduciary or Beneficiaries

Philosophy of Our Practice

Our Commitment

Although it may seem ironic, we believe that the goal of a sophisticated, modern, probate legal practice should minimize the legal complexity of the process, by avoiding probate to the extent possible by creative after death planning, by qualifying appropriate parties (including parties not named in the will) as personal representatives, by filing with the probate court waivers and consents to avoid, to the extent possible, the requirements of an inventory and accounts. Frankly, we are aware of many estates which have complied with elaborate and rigorous probate requirements which could easily have been avoided by waiver if the family of the decedent had been informed of the opportunity and how to take advantage of it, and if the attorney for the family understood the procedures and had adequately advised the family and proactively pursued the matter. In addition to economies in legal and accounting costs, avoiding probate may avoid disclosure on the public record of the nature and extent of the decedent's assets, which the decedent's family will frequently deem desirable.

As surprising as it may seem, many defective estate plans may be rectified after death by timely tax elections and procedures under state and federal law. Where the lifetime tax planning or dispositive planning has been inadequate, because there is no will, or because assets are inappropriately titled, or because wills or trusts have been improperly drafted -- even if only in hindsight-prompt and aggressive post-mortem attention and planning can sometimes cure the faulty plan and result in ideal, or at least improved, tax consequences and an appropriate dispositive plan. Effective use of such post-mortem strategies requires sophisticated familiarity with applicable state and federal tax law and thorough, diligent and creative review of the facts and options, and close cooperation between the decedent's family, the personal representative(s) and the probate lawyer.

Potentially very valuable estate assets, particularly fractional (especially non-controlling) interests in closely-held businesses and real estate and other investments, may properly be valued at steep discounts for federal estate tax purposes if the decedent's family is advised of the opportunity and suitably expert appraisers are engaged. Considering that the lowest effective federal estate tax rate is 45%, and that the undiscounted values of such interests in estates we work on are frequently worth hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars, it is nothing short of tragic for an estate to miss an opportunity to claim a legitimate valuation discount of one-third of total value or more that is frequently justified under established tax precedents.

Regrettably, disputes and conflicting claims among beneficiaries and between beneficiaries and fiduciaries are not uncommon in medium size and large estates, particularly if the decedent is survived by a spouse who is not the parent of all of the decedent's children. These disputes may revolve around such issues as the interpretation of the will or a trust, the authority of a fiduciary regarding investments or distributions, title to an asset, allocation of the income or of the estate tax burden or of the shares of the estate assets among the parties. Disputes of this type are frequently particularly difficult to resolve because of the conflicts of interest which arise from the fact that a beneficiary also serves in a fiduciary capacity. We are accustomed to counseling and representing fiduciaries in regard to the authority and responsibilities and to assisting beneficiaries to be certain that their rights and prerogatives are established and protected.

We are not afraid of "messy" assets or family situations. We are comfortable dealing with complex and sophisticated issues relating to closely-held stock, stock options and other stock rights and real estate interests of every kind. We enjoy the challenges of complexity. We have seen enough not to find any family situation unusual. We are accustomed to dealing with and conciliating family disputes and grievances. We are thorough. We are tax experts. We are aware of, and stay attuned to, the latest, most sophisticated and innovative planning techniques and recommend them where appropriate. We will help you avoid probate legal fees and minimize taxes. We listen. We return your telephone calls promptly. We try to educate our clients. We will challenge you to understand the relevant tax and state law and to work with us for an ideal administration and disposition of the estate. We will not patronize you.

As in any case where you buy goods and services, comparative shopping is wise. You naturally want the best price. To comparison shop effectively you must compare comparable services.

Our prices are fair. When, at our first meeting, you provide us with a preliminary understanding of the size and complexity of the estate and the issues confronting it, we will provide you with a preliminary estimate of our charges. These fees will be based on our best estimate of the number of hours the administration will require by which of our attorneys, staffing the matter most efficiently. We do not charge a flat fee based on an arbitrary percentage of the size of the estate, and we strongly believe such an approach is not only outdated, but inappropriate. Within 60-90 days of our involvement in a matter, we will give you an updated estimate. To the extent our fees are subject to court review and approval, we will, of course, agree to reduce our fees to the extent required in the unlikely event they are not approved in full by the court as submitted. (We have never had this experience.)

We are happy to show you how to keep our fees to an absolute minimum if personal representatives or family members are willing to do as much of the work as possible, and we will be pleased to provide instruction, supervision and review of such "do-it-yourself' efforts. On the other hand, if you want us to assume most or all of the burden of the necessary tasks, we are at your disposal. If you want us to coordinate and cooperate with other professional advisors to share the duties, we are comfortable with such teamwork. In tax compliance we generally recommend that we prepare the federal estate tax return, if one is required, and any state death tax returns, and that an accountant of your choice prepare the decedent's final income tax return and any necessary estate or trust fiduciary income tax returns.

We take responsibility for any reasonable misunderstanding between us relating to fees. Like you, we do not want any confusion or surprises with respect to your fees. It is our responsibility to give you an accurate idea at the earliest reasonable time of what our total fees will approximate. You will also receive detailed bills which describe the work we have done and the related fees. Proper estate administration and post-mortem tax planning will frequently save tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars or more in taxes and probate legal and accounting fees, especially if savings in taxes and fees at the subsequent deaths of other family members is considered. An investment in our services may be one of the most cost effective investments you ever make.

In summary, we are highly motivated to educate ourselves about this estate or trust and all of its circumstances, to help the personal representative and/or family of the decedent become educated about the relevant local and federal tax law, and to help you evaluate and select strategies best suited to carry out the decedent's intent, minimize taxes, avoid probate fees and disclosure, and vest the assets of the decedent where they belong as cost-effectively as possible.

We were associated with Verner, Liipfert, Bernhard, McPherson and Hand, Chartered, a 170-lawyer Washington, D.C.-based law firm, for more than seven years, and through our continuing informal affiliation we are able to offer a broad array of sophisticated legal services in such areas as real estate, corporate, litigation, labor and employment, communications, energy, international, white-collar criminal, environmental and federal legislative. If appropriate expertise is not available within that firm or it is otherwise appropriate, we can refer you to other professionals we regularly work with.

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