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Ronald Aucutt marks the passage of the Tax Reform Act of 1976 as the starting point of his career as an expert in estate tax law. “The law made a number of changes in estate and gift tax law, and that required us to do a lot of things for people who were long-standing clients of the firm,” Aucutt says. Aucutt, a partner in McGuireWoods’ Tysons Corner, Va., office, says the Tax Reform Act continues to provide a basic framework for calculating gift and estate taxes. Aucutt, 58, joined McGuireWoods after 23 years of practice at D.C. tax firm Miller & Chevalier, where he began his work on estate tax matters. “McGuireWoods has a much larger trusts and estates practice,” he says. “Instead of being the estate person in a tax firm, I became the tax person in an estate group.” A significant portion of his practice involves helping clients transfer their wealth from one generation to the next in accordance with the tax rules. He represents clients “in their 20s and in their 90s and everywhere in between,” but almost all are wealthy, usually with large trusts, large private foundations, or family businesses. Aucutt also practices in front of the Internal Revenue Service, where he requests private letter rulings, or IRS-issued opinions to decide on tax issues on behalf of individual taxpayers. His IRS practice includes handling clients’ tax audits and appeals at the agency. Clients and colleagues say Aucutt’s expertise in the intricacies of taxation is not his only strength. He is one of the few who can dig into the “minutiae of the tax law and yet still be able to get the big picture,” says Lucian Morrison, a professional trustee in Houston. As a trustee, charged with the duty to act in the best interests of a trust, Morrison sometimes seeks the help of a tax specialist like Aucutt to address complex tax issues associated with the trust, Morrison says. Currently, Morrison, who primarily manages family trusts, and Aucutt work together on complex estate tax issues facing the trusts. Aucutt says the practice suits him because he likes the idea of solving puzzles. At times when tax law clashes with the objectives of his wealthy clients who possess large trusts and large family businesses, it is up to him to craft solutions that will address tax concerns while achieving their goals. Aucutt says one of the challenges of the practice is “making sure that families keep a proper sense of proportion [and] don’t lose sight of what’s important and what isn’t.” Taxes are secondary to taking care of family needs and business interests. In other words, it is important, Aucutt says, to “not let the tax tail wag the dog.” Aucutt graduated from the University of Minnesota Law School, an eight-year endeavor because of his service in the U.S. Navy, he says. He spent three years on a ship that was home-ported in San Diego, and spent time deployed in the Gulf of Tonkin, Vietnam. He is the immediate past president of the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel, a national organization with about 2,700 trusts and estates lawyers. Candidates for its invitation-only membership must satisfy strict criteria, including at least 10 years of practicing in the field and substantial speaking or writing on trust and estate topics. Aucutt says his estates and trusts practice is different than other areas because he deals “closely with individuals and their individual problems and circumstances. Everybody is different. Every family is different. Every situation is unique.”

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