Estates and Probate Law

The Law Offices of Robert M. Stahl can assist you with all of your probate, estate planning, estate administration, trust creation, trust litigation, guardianship administration, will contests, and fiduciary litigation needs. From the preparation of simple wills and advance directives, to the planning and administration of estates, guardianships and trusts involving complex personal and business assets, we frequently assist clients with successor ownership and management, sales of business and sophisticated tax planning.

Estate Planning

Our estate and family wealth planning practice focuses on maximum conservation and protection of our clients’ estates and related assets – with minimum taxes and other adverse consequences.

We handle the administration of trusts, estates and other related family entities, the drafting of wills and estate plans, and the creation of succession plans for privately owned businesses. In all such transactions, our expertise includes sophisticated structuring of alternatives involving taxes, generation-skipping issues and redirection of legal liability risks.

By their nature, estate planning services are tailored to the individual requirements of each client. Depending upon client needs, our attorneys can counsel on a single estate planning issue or can advise on a broad range of personal and business goals, and implement the steps necessary to achieve them.

The minimization of taxes is a major objective of our estate planning services. Income taxes, estate taxes, gift taxes and generation-skipping transfer taxes all have a significant impact on the accumulation and disposition of our personal assets. The Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001, with its complex changes to the tax code and phasing out of the estate tax and generation-skipping tax, has made such tax considerations even more important for estate planning. We understand the complexities of such a change and make sure our clients are protected.

We can be especially helpful to the owners of family businesses. Our estate planning attorneys can counsel clients regarding the difficult matters of transfer of ownership or control and resolving liquidity concerns while treating family members equitably. If divorce proceedings complicate the planning for ownership transfer, we have the knowledge and experience to ensure that the business owner’s wishes remain paramount.

Effective estate planning should be the culmination of a lifetime of hard work and achievement. Our estate planning attorneys understand how important an effective wealth transfer strategy is – and know how to represent each client’s unique interests in creating one.


Probate Law

Our probate representation involves both the administration of estates as well as probate related litigation. Whether the primary estate planning document of the decedent was a will or trust, disputes among beneficiaries and those persons named as the executor in a will or the trustee in a trust often develop. The fiduciary relationship present between an executor in a will and the beneficiaries under the will, a trustee in a trust and the trust’s beneficiaries, or the person to whom a power of attorney has been given and that person’s beneficiaries, carries with it the highest legal duties provided for under Maryland Law.

Misconduct by a trustee, executor, administrator, or attorney-in-fact, can result in a legal claim for breach of fiduciary duty which can involve punitive damages. We provide legal representation to individuals whose rights have been wrongfully affected by such fiduciaries, and we also defend fiduciaries against charges of improper conduct. We also provide legal advice in connection with the administration of a decedent’s estate for those who have died with or without a valid will or trust.

Will Contests

A will can be challenged or contested on a number of different grounds, including:

Lack of Proper Formalities: Proper execution of a will requires that the will be signed by the testator and witnessed by two witnesses, who also sign the will. A will can be contested on the grounds that it was not properly drafted, signed, or witnessed in accordance with the applicable requirements.

Lack of Capacity: Under Maryland law, a testator is required to have mental competency to make a will and to understand the nature of his or her assets and the people to whom the assets are going to be distributed. A will can be declared void if lack of capacity can be proven. Typically, incompetence is established through a prior medical diagnosis of dementia, Alzheimer’s, or psychosis, or through the testimony of witnesses as to the irrational conduct of the deceased around the time the will was executed.

Undue Influence: Undue influence occurs when the testator is compelled or coerced to execute a will as a result of improper pressure exerted on him or her, typically by a relative, friend, trusted advisor, or health care worker. In many cases, the undue influencer will upset a long established estate plan where the bulk of the estate was to pass to the direct descendants or other close relatives of the decedent. Some undue influencers are new friends or acquaintances of the decedent who “befriend” the decedent in the last months or years of life, typically after the decedent has suffered some decline in mental ability. In other situations, one child of the decedent, often a caregiver, will coerce the decedent to write the other children out of the will. Undue influencers can also be health care workers or live in aides who implicitly or explicitly threaten to withhold care unless the estate plan is changed in favor of the health care worker.

Other areas of probate litigation our firm handles include contested guardianships, contests regarding the validity of trusts, and transfers to certain trusts, as well as disputes involving transfers of property effective at the time of death, such as life insurance, annuities, joint tenancy with rights of survivorship accounts and IRA’s, and transfers regarding United States saving bonds, among others.