Do you give free consultations?

A 30-minute conversation is a very good way to determine what the client may be looking for and to see if we would be a good fit. I do not charge for these meetings. If, however, you would like to meet in person and have me review materials to come up with a plan, we can discuss a fee for the services, based on what you want to accomplish.

Do you accept credit cards?

Yes. I accept credit cards and provide a secure link for that payment option. I also accept personal checks and wire transfers.

Will you meet via Zoom?

Yes. I am able to work effectively with clients via Zoom. I also meet in-person, with  the appropriate safety precautions.

Why do you need a will?

A last will and testament is a legal document that specifies how you would like your assets to be distributed at your death.  If you do not have a will, state laws of intestacy determine distribution of your assets. For example, in the District of Columbia, if a person is married without children when they pass away, the laws of intestate succession provide that the decedent’s parents are entitled to a significant share of the estate.  The surviving spouse would also receive a share of the assets, but it may be far less than the decedent and their spouse would have wanted.  

A will also identifies the person who manages your estate (your executor) when you pass. If you have children, you name their guardian in your will as well.  If you do not have a will, these appointments can create unwanted controversy in your family.  A will insures you have control over these critical elements of your estate.

What is a durable power of attorney?

A durable power of attorney (DPOA) is a legal document that gives someone you designate (your agent) the authority to make financial decisions on your behalf, when you are not able to do so yourself.  It is called durable because it survives your incapacity.  The power is only valid while you are living.

What is a health care proxy?

A healthcare proxy or health care directive is a legal document that gives someone you designate (your agent) the authority to make health care decisions on your behalf, when you are incapacitated and not able to make medical decisions for yourself.

Do you need a trust?

There are many different types of trusts that can accomplish a variety of goals.  Whether a trust is for asset management and transfer, asset protection, tax planning, or even to insure your children are not receiving significant assets before they are mature enough to manage them, trusts can be very effective estate planning tools.

How do you start the process of estate planning?

Attorney Jill Rynkowski Doyle provides comprehensive estate planning services for clients in Washington, D.C. and Massachusetts. She also assists clients with estate administration and probate and works with fiduciaries in the District of Columbia. Please call (202) 617-4256 or use the online contact form to schedule a consultation or request additional information.

What is probate?

Probate is the legal process by which the courts oversee the transfer of assets from a decedent (person who has died) to their beneficiaries.  It involves:

  • Presenting the decedent's last will and testament to the court, to prove it is valid
  • Appointing a legal representative who will have the authority to carry out the administration of the estate
  • Identifying, securing, and appraising all property of the decedent
  • Paying any debts or taxes which may be due
  • Distributing the remaining assets according to the terms of the will

If there is a will, a person named as executor in the will is likely to be appointed as the legal representative of the estate. 

Does an estate always have to go through probate?

If a decedent dies with assets held solely in their name, and the assets are to be transferred to a beneficiary, it is likely the estate will need to go through probate.  If a decedent had debts, the estate may need to go through probate to limit the time that the debtors may collect on the debts.

Many states allow a more simplified process for modest estates.  For example, in the District of Columbia, if an estate has assets of $40,000 or less (and the decedent died after April 26, 2001), a small estate may be opened to appoint a personal representative, pay debts, and distribute the assets of the decedent.

Do all of a decedent’s assets go through probate?

No. Only assets that are part of the probate estate are subject to the authority of the probate court.

Do IRAs or other retirement accounts go through probate?

No. IRAs, 401(k)s, 403(b)s, and other similar retirement accounts transfer to the individuals identified in the beneficiary designation forms.

Will life insurance need to go through probate?

If the life insurance identifies an individual or charity as the beneficiary, the proceeds are distributed without going through the probate process.  However, if a life insurance policy names the decedent's estate as the beneficiary, the life insurance proceeds would become part of the probate estate.

Will the decedent’s house go through probate?

If the house is held in joint names with the right of survivorship, the surviving owner(s) of the house will become the owner of the entire property, without the need to go through the probate process.  If the house was held in the decedent’s name alone, probate may be necessary to properly transfer the home.

Can an executor named in a will go ahead and make distributions according to the will?

No. The first step is acceptance and formal appointment as executor by the court.  In many cases, banks and other institutions will not speak to a person who does not have the appropriate appointment documentation to prove they are the valid executor and have authority over the accounts.

What if the decedent did not have a will?

If there is no will, the decedent died intestate, with no named personal representative.  In that case, the assets transfer according to the applicable laws for intestate estates.  The court assigns an administrator for the estate.  In many cases, the court appoints a surviving spouse or an adult child as the legal representative.

How much does the probate process cost?

Probate costs usually are paid from the assets of the estate. Attorney’s fees for assisting with probate depend on the size and complexity of the estate. A probate lawyer may charge a flat rate as a percentage of the estate or an hourly rate.

How can you get help with administration and probate of an estate?

Attorney Jill Rynkowski Doyle provides comprehensive estate administration and probate services for clients in Washington, D.C. Please call (202) 617-4256 or use the online contact form to schedule a consultation or request additional information.

How long do I have to be separated in the District of Columbia to file for divorce?

If one of the spouses has been a resident of the District of Columbia for six months, you may file for divorce here, regardless of where you were married. There are two grounds for divorce. The first one requires separation without cohabitation for at least six months and agreement between you and your spouse to separate. If one of the spouses does not agree to be separated, separation without cohabitation for at least a year is required.

What is the process for an uncontested divorce?

In an uncontested divorce, one party files the complaint. The other party files a consent answer. In addition to the court forms, the marital separation agreement, signed by both parties, should be included.

The separation agreement details how the parties will divide their assets and debts and resolve issues relating to custody and support of the children and spousal support (alimony).  If the agreement is included, and the judge agrees to include it in the divorce order, it will become part of the order and can be enforced through contempt orders in the family court. 

After the filing is submitted to the court, you usually receive notice of a scheduled hearing within a few weeks.  The hearing is typically brief.  While the defendant is not required to be there, if they wish to have their name changed, it is recommended they attend.  After the judge grants the divorce, you receive the divorce order.  Your divorce is final 30 days after the date the divorce order is stamped by the court. The process for an uncontested divorce is often quicker than a contested divorce. 

What is the process for a contested divorce?

A contested divorce case moves more slowly through the courts.  One party files the complaint and the required court papers (plaintiff).  After the complaint is filed, an initial hearing is scheduled. 

The court provides you with the information regarding the hearing, which must be included in the papers you serve on your spouse (defendant).  While there are a few options for the service process, they are all specific and must be properly complied with.  After the defendant receives service, they have 21 days to respond. 

In most contested divorce cases, the parties eventually come to an agreement and avoid going to trial. However, the contested process can take a year or longer to resolve.  If the parties do come to an agreement, they can amend their filings to reflect agreement and proceed through the uncontested process as stated above.

It is usually in the parties’ best interests to come to an agreement without the court’s involvement. If you hire an attorney to help you through the negotiation of a settlement or use a mediator to reach agreement, and both parties agree to a low or no conflict resolution, everyone, including the family, usually comes out better in the end.

Do we have to get a divorce? Can we just separate?

Not every state allows legal separation. However, you can obtain a legal separation in the District of Columbia.  A legal separation is accomplished by petitioning the court, usually on the same grounds as for a divorce. The separation petition may include a request for division of assets and child custody and support, as well as spousal support. 

The court-decreed right of separation allows parties to remain married while living apart. The parties may not remarry during a legal separation. Spouses also may come to their own agreement to separate for a period of time, if they are not able to make the decision to divorce.  You do not need a legal separation in order to file for divorce.

Where can you get help with a divorce?

Attorney Jill Rynkowski Doyle provides family law legal services, including divorce, for clients in Washington, D.C. She also provides mediation services in the District of Columbia and Maryland. Please call (202) 617-4256 or use the online contact form to schedule a consultation or request additional information.

You have been asked to serve as a trustee. What should you be thinking about?

Often trust creators (also referred to as grantor, trustor, or settlor) name a family member or close friend to serve as their trustee, successor trustee, or co-trustee.  While this designation may be an expression of their trust and faith in your abilities, the obligations are numerous and should not be taken lightly.  You must be prepared to understand your duties in detail, become knowledgeable about the trust and its purpose, and be willing to take an active involvement in the investment and administration of the trust and develop and maintain a relationship with the beneficiaries that is conducive to open communication.

Do you need to personally handle all of the trust administration?

While there is a duty to administer the trust and a duty not to delegate the entire administration, you may delegate duties when it is prudent to do so.   For example, if you are not licensed to sell real estate, it may be prudent to hire a real estate broker to manage this aspect for you.  You may hire other professionals, like a CPA or attorney, when a reasonable person would deem it appropriate to do so.

Where can a trustee get help with trust administration?

Attorney Jill Rynkowski Doyle provides fiduciary advisory services to trustees in Washington, D.C. Please call (202) 617-4256 or use the online contact form to schedule a consultation or request additional information.

What is mediation?

Mediation is a form of alternative dispute resolution (ADR). It is a process in which a neutral third party helps individuals come to an agreement.  Mediation can be used for a variety of matters, including divorce, prenuptial agreements, parenting plans, or another specific issue within a larger matter.

The process is voluntary and optional. The individuals are in control. There is no requirement to agree to anything, unless the parties believe it is fair.

What is the mediator’s role?

The mediator does not advocate for either party or provide legal advice.   Each party must be willing and able to speak up for themselves.  

While the process tends to be more informal than a legal negotiation, it is not therapy.  A skilled mediator will help the parties have a conversation with each other that they are not able to have themselves.  By helping both sides share information, frame issues, and develop options, the mediator can help the parties move through the negotiation and come to a joint decision.

Is mediation the best course for you?

Mediation may not be the best option when there is a significant power imbalance in the relationship, or when one party is not able to advocate for themselves, such as situations involving significant abuse or mental illness.

Is the mediation process confidential?

Mediation is private and confidential between the mediator, the individuals, and the individuals’ attorneys, if they have legal representation.  The mediator seeks the parties’ assurances that they will keep the process confidential.  In the event the parties do not reach an agreement, the mediator cannot provide legal representation to either party.  The mediator seeks assurances from the parties that they will not call the mediator as a witness if they end up in litigation.

What is the mediation process?

The mediation process usually involves an initial meeting which lasts one to two hours. The mediator reviews  the process,  establishes ground rules, and confirms the commitment to mediation.

Following the initial meeting, the mediator sets up four to eight sessions of one and a half to two hours each, depending on the complexity of the issues.  Topics for those sessions include budget and needs, division of assets and debts, and needs of the child(ren).

Following the sessions, if an agreement is reached, a joint memorandum of understanding is drafted, which is used to draft the settlement agreement.  

What are the benefits of mediation?

Mediation provides a forward-focused process that enables individuals to be in control of what their post-marriage life will look like.  The process is more optimistic, more efficient, and more cost effective than a legal negotiation or litigation.

Can you do mediation remotely?

Yes, mediation can be done in person or remotely, by conference calls or Zoom.

Do you need a lawyer for mediation?

While legal representation is not required in mediation, you can have a lawyer attend the sessions with you. Your attorney can assist you during the discussions and also review any agreement that is reached before you sign it, both of which are extremely beneficial.

If you don’t have a lawyer to represent you in your mediation, Jill Rynkowski Doyle provides counsel and legal representation in mediation, divorce, and other family law matters for clients in the District of Columbia. She also provides mediation services in Maryland and Washington, D.C. To schedule a consultation or request information, please call (202) 617-4256 or use the online contact form.