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Ellen Harrison, a Shaw Pittman partner in the District, advises her wealthy client families on a wide range of tax issues in planning and in administering their estates. “I feel like a part of the family after a while because I know so much of their history,” says Harrison, who has worked with as many as three generations of a family. A notable part of Harrison’s practice is international estate and tax planning. There, she advises families that have U.S. citizens and noncitizens as members. She also counsels U.S. executives who work outside the country and who face foreign and U.S. taxes. She is also experienced in situations where an immigrant to the United States is the recipient of foreign gifts or trusts. All of these scenarios have tax consequences, Harrison says. Harrison, 58, became interested in trusts and estates law while she was a student at Harvard Law School, but did not delve into the practice until she moved to the District a few years after graduation in 1972. She did stints at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and at Covington & Burling, where she started her estate planning practice. She then joined tax boutique Cohen and Uretz, which eventually merged with Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, and practiced there for about 15 years. In 2000, she moved to Shaw Pittman, where she leads the trusts and estates practice group in the firm’s tax section. Harrison says the shifting tax law is a difficult part of her practice. Particularly, the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001, which was a Bush administration initiative to repeal the estate tax. The law reduces the tax rates, increases tax exemptions, and for a single year, 2010, it will eliminate the estate and generation-skipping taxes. The law then dissolves in 2011 and, presumably, the old tax law will return. There have been efforts to change the tax law permanently, but no legislation has passed. “It makes estate planning very difficult because nobody knows what law will be in effect when they die,” Harrison says. “Everybody thinks this is just an interim set of rules, and nobody knows what the final rules will be.” But her peers and others in the industry say Harrison may be one of the best in keeping track of the changes in the field. Insurance company owner Alan Meltzer says she is current on all the new estate planning strategies. “She’s cutting edge without being overly aggressive,” Meltzer says. “She’s very innovative.” In her practice, Harrison relishes working with owners of privately owned businesses because “they represent the greatest challenges,” she says. She confronts complicated issues relating to tax liabilities when planning the transfer of the businesses to other family members. And on the personal side, she helps untangle any differences of opinions between the business owner and the future recipients of the business and the assets. In one situation, Harrison faced a dilemma when one of her client’s estate plans gave the decision-making power in the business to a person who wasn’t a member of the family. Although she was concerned that the situation would disenfranchise the family, she agreed that the business should be left in reliable hands. In the end, she helped the client set up an arrangement in which the unrelated decision-maker remained, but the family could participate in hiring and firing that person. “It was a very interesting and complicated checks and balances,” she says. Harrison is a fellow and regent of the prestigious American College of Trust and Estate Counsel, where she meets with other regents to oversee the finances and the policies of the college. She has written numerous articles and taught classes on estate tax planning. Harrison lectures at various seminars, institutes, and state bar meetings. Although she enjoys applying the complex law that accompanies her practice, she savors the personal side as well. “I learn a lot by getting a glimpse of other people’s lives and sharing their experiences,” Harrison says.

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