Estate Planning

Secure Your Legacy, Protect Your Family

Estate Planning Lawyers for DC, Northern Virginia & Maryland

Planning for the end of life can feel like an overwhelming task. You might know who you want to receive your property after you die, but your plan can raise more questions, such as:

  • How do you make sure everything is fair after accounting for taxes and expenses?
  • How do you properly provide for the care of a special needs child/grandchild?
  • How will your business or charitable legacy survive?
  • What if someone challenges my estate plan?

Questions like these can prove so challenging that some people put off their estate plan and pass away without executing one at all. Ideally, everyone should have an estate plan.

For more than 40 years, Quinn, Racusin & Gazzola has provided practical and legal guidance to its estate planning clients The attorneys at QRG are here to help you make sure that your desires are met and your wishes for your family are made clear after you are gone. Getting your estate plan in order can help prevent family disputes and avoid unintended consequences.

Whether you are just beginning to consider estate planning or need to update an existing plan, we are here to help.

Services & Questions related to Estate Planning

Plans Tailored for Every Client

At QRG, we prepare estate plans, not just estate planning documents.

Every client’s situation is unique. QRG attorneys carefully craft estate plans tailored to the objectives of our clients. We start with a thorough assessment of your family, assets, and other relevant aspects of your life before we even begin preparing documents. We provide sophisticated solutions to complex estate and tax planning issues, employing advanced estate and tax planning strategies to minimize our clients’ tax implications while accomplishing the goals of our clients. QRG helps with estates of all sizes.

Your plan might include a combination of the following types of documents:

  • Wills
  • Revocable Trusts
  • Financial Powers of Attorney
  • Medical Powers of Attorney
  • Advance Health Care Directives
  • Bypass or Family Trusts for Surviving Spouses
  • Qualified Terminable Interest Property (QTIP) Trust
  • Generation Skipping Transfer (GST) Trusts
  • Irrevocable Life Insurance Trusts (ILITs)
  • Special Needs Trusts
  • Pet Trusts

Business Succession Planning

Our lawyers are sometimes brought into the planning process when a family member is retiring from the business and wants to explore business succession planning options. We formulate tax saving strategies for the sale of a business, including Buy/Sell or Stock Purchase Agreements, and utilizing advanced planning techniques such as gifts of fractionalized interests.

Asset Protection

High net-worth individuals often face an increased risk of exposure to litigation. Our attorneys counsel clients regarding asset protection planning and wealth preservation strategies, including business protection involving the use of corporate entities and asset protection trusts.

Trust and Estate Administration

Our trust and estate attorneys have extensive experience in estate and trust administration, including the settlement of complex estate matters in DC, Maryland, and Virginia.

We represent clients in probate administration matters, ranging from the administration of small estates to the administration of large, complex estates involving significant business interests, residential or commercial real estate, and assets located in more than one state. Whether you are a personal representative trying to navigate a problem or a beneficiary questioning whether you are receiving your due, QRG can help. We represent clients in will and trust litigation, including contests, lawsuits concerning the interpretation of estate planning documents, trustee removal proceedings, and trust termination proceedings.

QRG offers tax-sensitive, comprehensive estate planning services for clients located in Washington, D.C. and the DMV. Call now to schedule a free consultation.


Estate Planning Basics for DC, Northern Virginia & Maryland

What is estate planning?
Estate planning arranges for the orderly and tax-efficient transfer of an individual's propertyand may involve a will, trusts, or both. It can also involve planning for incapacity and future healthcare planning for a scenario where the individual cannot, for whatever reason, manage their own financial affairs or health care.
What is my “estate”?

An estate consists of all property owned or controlled by an individual at death. Some property will form part of the probate estate for distribution under Court supervision by Will or intestacy. The non-probate estate will consist of property held in a revocable trust, or that passes by operation of law or beneficiary designation.   For more on revocable trusts, click here.

The estate is comprised of real property and personal property, which includes bank and investment accounts, stock certificates, bonds, tangible personal property, and cryptocurrency. It can also include contractual rights or debts held by the decedent in life, which would then become the responsibility of the personal representative of the estate to exercise or collect.

What is a “decedent” and who is the “personal representative” of the estate?

A decedent is a person who is no longer living and whose former property is being distributed. 

A personal representative (also called an executor, executrix, or administrator, depending on the jurisdiction in which an individual’s estate is being administered) is the person recognized by the local Court as having the legal authority to act for the decedent’s estate. Personal representatives are nominated in the decedent’s Will or are appointed by the Court pursuant to laws specifying the priority of appointment based on an individual’s relationship to the decedent, if there is no Will.

What happens when someone dies without a will?

A person who dies without a Will is referred to as being intestate. Each state, and the District of Columbia, has enacted a set of intestacy laws that make provisions for how a deceased individual’s assets should be distributed if they die without a Will. If a decedent does not have any surviving relations that qualify under the intestacy statute, the estate can “escheat” to the state or District of Columbia. “Escheat” is a term from the Middle Ages that means the property defaults to the king or local lord. Today an intestate’s property “escheats” to the state treasury.

What is probate and how long does it usually take?

Probate is the process that courts use to enforce the provisions of a Will, or to distribute an estate by intestacy, deal with any disputes regarding the decedent’s estate, and winding up a decedents affairs (such as paying debts, filing taxes, and ensuring the estate is distributed in accord with the Will or laws of intestacy.. After an individual dies, the person nominated in her Will as personal representative will file papers with the court informing the court that the individual has passed and asking the Court to open the probate proceeding. It is the personal representative’s job to record the Will with the probate court and provide the court with an inventory of the decedent’s property and debts, as well as a list of people who are named in the Will as beneficiaries and those who would inherit if a Will was not in existence. 

Probate typically takes 6-12 months to complete, but it can take longer. The more complex and intricate the estate or Will, the longer it will take to wind up a decedent’s affairs. 

Probate laws vary from state to state and even D.C., Maryland and Virginia probate courts do things very differently. An estate planning attorney can also help your personal representative of choice navigate the process for your particular state.

How will my personal representative get control of my accounts or retitle my property?

Upon issuing an Order in response to a petition to open the probate estate, the court will issue Letters of Administration (in some jurisdictions they are called Certificate of Qualification) for your personal representative to take to the bank, DMV, etc. to obtain control of your assets and administer the assets in your estate.

Sometimes an estate will begin without the aid of counsel, but then a dispute arises. If a family member or other individual disagrees with how the executor is handling the will, for example, she can file a petition seeking court review of the executor’s actions (in some jurisdictions, this is called a “caveat”). The personal representative can respond by filing an answer to a will challenge pro se, but that is a risky choice. It is almost always a good idea to seek counsel over probate disputes, especially if the other side is represented by counsel.

Probate proceedings are public, and any documents filed that are associated with the probate of a will are available for public viewing. For some individuals a desire to retain privacy over their affairs may be a strong incentive to create a living trust to direct distribution of the Estate and limit information available to non-beneficiaries.

Should I hire a lawyer to help me draft a Will, or can I do it myself?

There is a famous case where a court held that the testator executed an effective Will written on a cocktail napkin. That being said, it was a published case, which means the cocktail napkin Will had to be sorted out through litigation and then again on appeal. It would have been better for his heirs if the decedent had left the bar and visited a local attorney instead.

In preparing your Will or any estate planning instrument, it is important to meet certain procedural requirements. An estate planning attorney will make sure the will that you execute is not vulnerable to challenge due to either a procedural deficiency or based on allegations that the will was not executed by you, that you were under someone’s influence in executing it, or that you did not have the mental wherewithal to execute it. If your estate is likely to be more complex or involve significant assets, an attorney will make ensure that your wishes are carried out with respect to the disposition of your property, at least to the extent legally possible.

What do you mean by “to the extent legally possible?

Sometimes the law does not allow you to disinherit someone, such as your surviving spouse. In almost all states, the surviving spouse is allowed to elect for a spousal share (often 33-50%), regardless of what the Will says. You may also have signed a contract, for example with your ex-spouse, that limits your ability to disinherit either that person or even a third-party identified in the contract. If you ever executed a separation agreement, tell your estate planning attorney.

What plans can I make for my pets?

It is possible to provide for your pet through a Will, though you will have to leave money for pet expenses in the care of the person who will be taking the pet. This requires that you identify a pet caretaker (and, ideally, a backup) with unimpeachable trustworthiness. If the person ends up taking the money and rehoming the pet, it will be very difficult for anyone to do anything about this breach of trust. 

For more security, you might consider creating a legally sanctioned pet trust. As of 2023, all states and the District of Columbia recognize some form of pet trust. Click here for more info on how pet trusts are treated in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia.

Contact an Experienced Estate Planning Law Firm Serving DC, Northern Virginia & Maryland That You Can Trust

The estate planning attorneys at Quinn, Racusin & Gazzola Chartered are here to help whether you are just beginning to consider estate planning or need to update an existing plan for DC, Virginia or Maryland.