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For Virginia McArthur, the estates and trusts practice is a cooperative process between lawyer and client. The lawyer must listen to the client’s needs, but must also be unafraid to tell clients what strategies would be right for them. “With experience, you get a little more brave in telling people what you think they need,” McArthur says. McArthur runs a three-lawyer office in the District. The 62-year-old has a practice evenly split between estate planning and estate administration. Most of her clients reside in the District, Maryland, and Northern Virginia. McArthur’s first job after graduating from Georgetown University Law Center in 1975 was working in the U.S. Labor Department for two years, where she worked on employee benefit plans. She left the Labor Department to start her own firm, where, along with her work on taxes, pensions, and estate plans, she advised clients on divorces and Social Security disability issues. After four and a half years she closed her office and, in 1982, joined the now-defunct New York firm Finley, Kumble, Wagner, Heine, Underberg, Manley, Myerson & Casey. “I thought it would be good for me to get more concentrated experience,” McArthur says. In the D.C. office of Finley, Kumble, she worked in the tax department working on Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) issues, estate planning, and probate for four years. She then joined a small firm � Sanders, Schnabel, Brandenburg. She took charge of the firm’s probate and estate planning practice. After her time at Sanders, she felt she had enough experience under her belt and in October 1992 again opened her own law office. McArthur is very active outside the office. She is a fellow of the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel and is the organization’s current state chair for the District of Columbia. McArthur is also a recent past president of the Washington, D.C., Estate Planning Council, a networking and educational organization for professionals in the field, which includes trust officers, lawyers, accountants, financial planners, and insurance representatives. She is also past chair of the Steering Committee of the D.C. Bar’s Estates, Trusts and Probate Law Section. McArthur is a native of Canada who moved as a youth to New Jersey with her family to follow her father’s job. She says that a trusts and estates lawyer must appreciate two arguably contrary characteristics in order to succeed on the job: the financial and personal side. The intricate tax laws and one-on-one time with clients make up the crux of a trusts and estates practice. Liane Atlas, a Washington client, says her lawyer not only knows the complex law well, but also can easily explain it in a clear and logical fashion. Atlas met McArthur about 15 years ago, when McArthur was at the Sanders law firm. There, McArthur was tasked with reviewing a trust drafted for Atlas and her husband. The trust, written by another attorney, was so complicated, Atlas says, that neither she nor her husband could grasp its terms. McArthur took the initiative and rewrote the trust in a way that made it “completely understandable,” Atlas recalls. “She also had very good ideas for handling our finances.” Dorothy Carroll in Chevy Chase, Md., went to McArthur for help in planning her estate. “I think she’s extremely efficient. . . . She seemed to understand what our [family's] needs were and gave us very good advice.” McArthur says she often explains to new clients that her job is much more than writing a will. “A will,” she says, “is just one piece of an estate plan.” It is looking at how all of their assets will pass along when they die and helping them organize their affairs. McArthur says the biggest challenge right now is the changing tax law. In 2001, Congress passed a law that provides a repeal for estate tax for one year only in 2010, after which the old law will presumably return. Planning for the changes is “tricky,” she says. In addition, individual jurisdictions, including Maryland, Virginia, and the District, are also trying to address the federal changes. “It’s unlikely to stay where it is, and yet, we don’t know where it will be,” she says. McArthur’s clients say they have faith in her abilities to lead them through the complex tax structure. Atlas, for one, compares her experience with McArthur with her friends’ experiences in administering family members’ estates. “I’m the only one who got through an estate proceeding without having to correct my attorney,” Atlas says.

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