May-June 2011 | Features

Will Powers

Meet the top 22 estate lawyers in the area.

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Marc R. Feinberg

West & Feinberg, Bethesda


The Brooklyn-born son of an accountant, Marc Feinberg graduated from George Washington University’s law school in 1974 and went to work in the gifts section of the IRS. “I liked math,” he says. “The IRS and a career in taxes was a logical place for me to go.”

Later, Feinberg worked at West & Feinberg’s predecessor firm, helping create pension plans for clients. Today he’s considered one of the leading experts in the field of inherited pensions and in estate planning for those with complicated pension arrangements.

Marcia C. Fidis and N. Alfred Pasternak

Pasternak & Fidis, Bethesda


Marcia Fidis and Alfred Pasternak co-founded this 16-lawyer firm, which specializes in estates and prenuptial agreements. Fidis is a Duke University graduate who studied chemistry before going on to American University’s Washington College of Law, from which she graduated in 1976. She took a job as a law clerk at Goldberg, Thompson & Pasternak, where she met Pasternak, a CPA-turned-lawyer who had been hired to head that law firm’s estates practice.

The pair worked together on estate planning, and in 1980 the firm was renamed Pasternak & Fidis after the two other name partners departed. For three decades, it has been one of Bethesda’s best-known firms in that specialty. Although the reins of leadership have been turned over to Nancy Fax, Fidis and Pasternak remain important and active figures in Bethesda estate law.

Neil Gurvitch

Selzer Gurvitch, Bethesda


Neil Gurvitch attended George Washington University both as an undergraduate and a law school student. He also has a master’s degree in taxation from Georgetown and mostly represents high-net-worth Maryland business owners who need help in passing privately held businesses to the next generation.

At $495 per hour, “we’re not really geared up for people coming in off the street to get help writing a will,” he says, “but we do write personal wills and create trusts for our clients.”

Gurvitch considers his firm’s discretion one of its biggest selling points. “We don’t talk about our clients,” he says. “Our clients reveal to us the most private and personal details of their lives, and they want to keep it that way.”

Ann Gray Jakabcin

Stein Sperling, Rockville


A native of Washington, D.C., who grew up outside of Reading, Pa., Ann Jakabcin attended D.C.’s Trinity College (now Trinity Washington University) before going to Temple University’s Beasley School of Law in Philadelphia. After graduating in 1977, she took a job with a Rockville company that provided tax planning advice to small businesses. In 1985, she was hired as an associate at Rockville’s Stein Sperling, where she now is a partner.

Jakabcin’s clients typically are individuals and owners of small businesses. Her frequent presence at area funerals testifies to the personal nature of her practice. “When I have been with clients for a long time,” she says, “I like to go, express my condolences and meet the children who may live out of town, and put a face on the name.”

Jeffrey A. Kolender

Paley Rothman, Bethesda


The son of Holocaust survivors, Jeff Kolender grew up in Charleston, S.C., and is a 1983 graduate of the University of South Carolina School of Law. Kolender came to Washington, D.C., in 1983 to get a degree in taxation from George Washington University’s National Law Center, which he did in 1984. He has been here ever since. He became head of Paley Rothman’s estate-planning practice after the departure last year of Steven Widdes. Before going into practice, Kolender was the “technical editor” of the Tax Management Estates, Gifts and Trusts Journal, and he continues to write extensively for various publications about changes in estate-planning law, particularly with regard to trusts for grandchildren.

Julia L. O’Brien

Furey, Doolan & Abell, Chevy Chase


A graduate of The Madeira School in McLean, Va., Julia O’Brien was in the first female class at Princeton. After graduating in 1973, she earned a master’s degree in social work from the University of Maryland and took a job with the D.C. court system, working with child victims of abuse and neglect. Her interaction with lawyers and the judicial system prompted her to attend night school at Georgetown Law.

After graduating in 1984, O’Brien went to work at Furey, Doolan & Abell. Her first day on the job, she arrived on crutches from an accident. Now she is considered especially knowledgeable about creating trusts for children with disabilities who will require special care after the loss of a parent.

Philip L. O’Donoghue

Furey, Doolan & Abell, Chevy Chase


Philip O’Donoghue’s father, Daniel, was a D.C. legend in trust and estate law before his death in 2003 at age 96. His grandfather, also named Daniel, was appointed a federal judge by President Herbert Hoover and served from 1932 to 1946. Following in their footsteps, O’Donoghue went to Georgetown Law after getting his undergraduate degree from Notre Dame. A 1976 law graduate, he worked in the trust and estates division at Covington & Burling in D.C. before joining Furey, Doolan & Abell in 1982.

O’Donoghue has a direct and reassuring manner that many say instills confidence in wealthy clients. Along with Nancy Fax and Steven Widdes, he is probably one of the three most highly regarded estate and trust experts in the county.

Susan S. Oldham Law OfficeSusan S. Oldham

Law Office of Susan S. Oldham, Bethesda


A native of Indianapolis, Ind., Susan S. Oldham went to Georgetown University Law Center wanting to do estate planning from the onset. After earning a master’s in taxation, she clerked at Steptoe & Johnson until she started her own practice in 1990. As a solo practitioner, Oldham says she takes a personalized approach to estate planning. She educates her clients through “estate planning 101” so that they understand their options and can make decisions that best suit their needs. “I really enjoy the bonding and relationships with my clients,” she says. “It is a people business, and I think that is what makes it very special.”


Paul F. RiekhofPaul F. Riekhof

Joseph, Greenwald & Laake, Rockville


Raised on a Missouri farm, Paul Riekhof witnessed his grandfather’s handling of a great-aunt’s financial affairs after she went into a nursing home. That early experience prompted Riekhof to want to work in estate planning after he graduated from the University of Colorado Law School in 1995.

When his wife, Maria, got a job in D.C., he set up shop as a sole practitioner in Silver Spring. When an estates partner at the Greenbelt office of Joseph, Greenwald & Laake retired nearly five years later, he went to work there.

Riekhof spends about four days a week in his Rockville office and one day a week in Greenbelt. He is the rare lawyer who still makes house calls, especially to elderly clients. “I’ve written first wills for people in their 90s,” Riekhof says. “I take a very personal approach to try to get people focused on what they want and need to do.”

David B.Torchinsky

Stein Sperling, Rockville


For 16 years, David Torchinsky was the junior partner to Shelton Binstock at what was basically a two-man firm, Binstock, Torchinsky and Associates. Binstock died last year, and Torchinsky has since moved on to Stein Sperling, one of the larger Rockville law firms.

A native Washingtonian, Torchinsky worked as a CPA while attending Catholic University’s Columbus School of Law at night. After his graduation in 1990, he continued his CPA career until joining Binstock in 1994, when he shifted his focus to the full-time practice of law.

Torchinsky is something of a full-service attorney. “One of my clients was deaf, and she didn’t notice that the smoke detector was beeping,” he says. “I had to climb up and fix it. That’s what I mean when I tell people I do things other lawyers can’t deliver.”

Steven A. Widdes

Stein Sperling, Rockville


The son of a Duluth, Minn., cattle dealer, Steven Widdes attended undergraduate and law school at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, earning a law degree in 1976. He moved to D.C. after getting a job as director of legacy development at B’Nai B’rith, the Jewish organization. His job was to convince wealthy people to include a bequest to B’Nai B’rith in their wills. Subsequently Widdes earned a master’s degree in taxation from Georgetown University and worked at the IRS with Marc Feinberg in the estates and gift tax section.

In 1982, Widdes left the IRS and joined Bethesda’s Paley Rothman, where he led the estates practice for nearly 30 years before moving to Stein Sperling in Rockville last year. As one might imagine from his résumé, Widdes is expert in all phases of estate planning, but particularly in setting up trusts and foundations for charitable giving. He also lectures on how to get one’s affairs in order before a hospital stay.

Kim Eisler is the author of Masters of the Game: Inside the World’s Most Powerful Law Firm (St.Martins/Thomas Dunne Books, 2010).