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Matthew Ballard Celebrates 20 Years

In the Spring of 2003, heading into the summer between my 2nd and 3rd year of law school, I applied for an estates and trusts litigation law clerk position at a small firm in Annapolis Maryland. I met with the firm’s partners, John Rhody and Charlie Bagley, in 2003 for my interview.  My parents happened to be in Maryland visiting me from South Carolina that week and drove with me, thinking we would go have lunch and look around Annapolis after the interview.  As it turned out, Charlie and John had their own plans of taking me to lunch at Killarney House for my interview.  Not wanting to say no, I ran out to tell my parents who insisted it was ok and that they would just wait in the car as I went to lunch with Charlie and John.

After we had finished lunch, I finally admitted to Charlie and John that my parents were with me and had hung out in the car the entire time. John and Charlie couldn’t believe I didn’t tell them beforehand and felt awful that they sat in the parking lot while we enjoyed a long lunch. We parked the car, and they immediately walked over, introduced themselves and apologized to my parents for my making them wait in the car so long. It was as if they had known me and my parents for years, not hours/minutes. Their endearing personalities, personal touch, and laid-back interview process stood out from the other firms to which I had applied and interviewed.

Charlie was looking for a “right hand man” to mentor and help him with estate litigation and I had recently clerked for the Baltimore County Orphans’ Court.  Thankfully, neither of them asked if I wanted to be a litigator, as I would have more than likely answered “no” at that time. They offered me the position and I started my journey at Bagley & Rhody on June 18, 2003. It turned out to be one of the best decisions in my life and the fit of the firm and practice areas turned out to be ideal as I can’t imagine not litigating, especially counter-balanced with the (generally) non-adversarial estate/trust administration.

I remained with the firm and after passing the bar exam, I joined B&R as an associate in January 2004.  For years after law school, I would occasionally meet up with classmates, many of whom did not like their current jobs, and I would think to myself how lucky I was to enjoy what I do and the people that I work with.  That sentiment remains the same 20 years later.   It is truly an honor and a privilege to come into the office and work with our team and clients every day.

Welcome New Partners To The Firm

Bagley & Rhody, P.C. is pleased to announce the promotion of Jon F. Watson, Esquire and Brittney A. Grizzanti, Esquire, as partners to the firm effective as of January 1, 2023.  Jon and Brittney’s exceptional legal skills and commitment to delivering outstanding results for their clients have made each a valuable member of the B&R team.

Jon joined the firm as an associate in 2015, and currently serves as head of the firm’s Business Department where he represents small to middle market business owners with a variety of different matters including, formation and operational matters, succession planning, and mergers and acquisitions (both buyers and sellers).  Jon’s experience with the firm is not just limited to corporate law, having also gained experience in estate planning and wealth preservation for high net-worth clients to ensure consistency between a client’s individual and business planning needs.  Jon’s broad range of experience and practical approach to problem solving has allowed him to facilitate even the most complex transactions, leading to his recognition as a Super Lawyer “Rising Star” in the area of mergers and acquisitions.

Jon earned his Bachelor of Science in Business degree in 2009 from Virginia Tech, where he graduated Cum Laude, majoring in Accounting and Information Systems.  In 2013, he graduated from the University of Maryland School of Law with a Business Law concentration. During his time at Maryland Law, Jon also obtained his license as a Certified Public Accountant (since inactive).  After graduating from law school, Jon was an associate at a public accounting firm for several years where he gained experience in tax and corporate compliance matters.

“I am thrilled to join the B&R partnership,” Jon said.  “B&R is a special place, and I am grateful for the opportunity to continue working with such a talented and dedicated team of legal professionals.  Throughout my time at the firm, I have been driven by a commitment to providing the highest quality legal services to our clients, and am thrilled to have the chance to continue this work as a partner.  I look forward to contributing to the continued growth and success of the firm, and to serving our clients with distinction.”  — Jon

Brittney joined B&R in 2016, and currently heads up the firm’s Estate Planning Department where she works directly with clients and their families to establish individualized estate plans. In her practice, Brittney handles a variety of client needs, ranging from clients who are looking to establish a simple estate plan for the first time, to clients with more complex needs, such as probate avoidance, estate and gift tax planning, business succession planning for estates containing closely held businesses, charitable planning and planning for individuals with special needs.

Born and raised in Northeastern Pennsylvania, Brittney obtained her Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from Wilkes University in 2013.  She then moved to Baltimore, Maryland to pursue law school where she went on to graduate Cum Laude from University of Baltimore School of Law in 2017.  During her time in law school, Brittney chose to concentrate on estate planning by serving as a research assistant to Professor Angela Vallario, focusing on the Spousal Elective Share in Maryland, as well as working full-time at B&R. Since becoming an attorney with the firm, Brittney has been recognized by Maryland Super Lawyers as a “Rising Star” in 2022 and 2023 for estate planning.

“I am excited and proud to transition to my new role as partner at B&R.  The firm is a special place that I consider myself very lucky to have found so early in my career. Having joined B&R while still in law school, I have had the unique opportunity to build long-standing relationships with my clients, all while learning and growing my practice with the unwavering support and encouragement from everyone here – I could not have asked for a better team of people to work with if I tried.  I look forward to continuing to provide our clients with exceptional service and helping our team at B&R continue to grow.” – Brittney

Make sure you tell Brittney and Jon “Congratulations!” next time you talk to them! 

Federal Estate and Gift Tax Exemptions set to increase in 2023

Due to built-in inflation adjustments to the Federal Estate and Gift Tax Exemptions, Taxpayers will have the opportunity to transfer more assets in 2023, free from the Federal Estate and Gift Tax. Here are some quick facts you should know:

  • In 2023, the Federal Estate Tax Exemption will jump to $12.92 million (up from $12.06 million in 2022), with all assets in excess of this exemption taxed at the rate of 40%.
  • The Annual Gift Tax Exclusion will jump to $17,000 per person, per year (up from $16,000 per person, per year in 2022). Gifts made using the Annual Gift Tax Exclusion do not reduce the Federal Estate Tax Exemption. Gifts made in excess of the Annual Gift Tax Exclusion reduce the Federal Estate Tax Exemption, dollar for dollar.
  • On January 1, 2026, absent legislative action, the Federal Estate Tax Exclusion is still set to sunset back to its pre-2018 level of $5 million, adjusted for inflation.
  • Be sure to check the estate tax laws in your state. Maryland residents continue to be taxed on estates in excess of $5 million at the rate of 16%.

What should you be doing now if you are likely to have a taxable estate?

    • Annual Exclusion Gifts – if made on a consistent basis, these gifts are extremely helpful in reducing your taxable estate.
    • Larger Gifts – to utilize the heightened Federal Estate Tax Exemptions prior to January 1, 2026. Keep in mind gifts “come off the bottom” of your exemption, not the top.  Therefore, a gift of $1 million will reduce your Federal Estate Tax Exemption by $1 million whether it is at $12.92 million (or $5 million, indexed for inflation).
    • Where to Gift (In Trust or Outright) – Gifts can be made to beneficiaries outright or alternatively into an Irrevocable Trust for creditor protection, future estate tax avoidance while retaining (if desired) a beneficiary’s control and access to the funds.
    • Prepare Your Estate for Gifting in advance of the Sunset
      • Prepare Irrevocable Trusts now to receive gifted assets in the future.
      • Transfer assets into LLCs, Partnerships or other closely held entities allowing for timely gifting, potentially on a discounted basis.
    • Value of Assets – Depressed market value of assets create a good opportunity for gifting.
    • Review of Estate Plan – It is always worthwhile to review your estate planning documents to ensure that (beyond taxation) your plan continues to meet your family’s goals.

To learn more about the impact of the Federal Estate and Gift Tax Exemption on your family’s estate and to determine the need for action in advance of any sunset or for a review of your current estate plan, please contact the professionals at Bagley & Rhody, P.C.

COVID-19 Updated Office Procedures – March 14, 2022

As the impact of COVID-19 evolves, our firm continues to update its operating procedures to protect the health and safety of our employees, their families, our clients, and friends.

We are no longer requiring masks to be worn inside our office.  We do encourage the unvaccinated and immunocompromised to stay masked.  We ask anyone with upper respiratory symptoms to reschedule any in-person meetings.

We continue to offer in-person meetings for clients subject to the following updated procedures that are in accordance with recommendations of the Anne Arundel County Department of Health:

  • All in-person meetings must be scheduled in advance.
  • All visitors are asked to use the hand sanitizer station just inside our front door upon entry.
  • If you are presenting with any COVID-19 symptoms or have tested positive for COVID-19; we request that you delay any in-person meeting for at least 10 days and you are asymptomatic and fever-free for 24 hours; or, in the alternative, schedule an online meeting or telephone conference.
  • If you have been exposed to anyone who has symptoms or has tested positive for COVID-19; or, if you have been to an area with a high rate of Covid-19 cases, we request that you delay any in-person meeting for at least 5 days if you are asymptomatic and fever-free; or, in the alternative, schedule an online meeting or telephone conference.

We hope you understand the need for taking the above precautions during this ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.  Certainly, if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact a member of the Bagley & Rhody team.

Changes To President Biden’s Build Back Better Package

President Biden presented his revised framework for the Build Back Better reconciliation package this morning, eliminating the previously proposed revisions to the Federal Estate Tax laws that were part of the previous versions of the package, including  (1) the accelerated drop in the Federal Estate Tax Exemption from $11.7 million to $6 million beginning as of January 1, 2022, (2) the elimination of Intentionally Defective Grantor Trusts, and (3) the elimination of discounts for lack of control and lack of marketability on certain business interests.

Instead, the new tax reform package focuses on revenue generation through:

  • 15% Corporate Minimum Tax on Large Corporations
  • 1% Surcharge on Corporate Buy-Backs
  • Global Minimum Tax
  • Penalty for Foreign Corporations
  • Surtax on Multi-Millionaires and Billionaires
  • Close Medicare Self-Employment Tax Loophole
  • Continue Limitation on Excess Business Losses
  • Investing in IRS Enforcement

It is unclear whether this revised framework will garner the votes necessary to get through Congress and whether the estate tax is revisited as a target for tax reform in the future.  At least for now, the President’s revised package provides welcome relief to many clients that were working to complete significant gifting transactions prior to the enactment of any new legislation.

The need for planning is still important as the Federal Estate Tax Exemption remains likely to “sunset” in the year 2026, based on current law. Therefore, we will continue to move forward with our strategic planning efforts, although the timing for completion has thankfully been extended.

Celebrating 25 Years of Service

We are pleased to celebrate our 25th anniversary.   Founded in May 1996, by Charles Bagley, IV and the late John P. Rhody Jr., who set out to provide the highest quality legal services in Anne Arundel County, and throughout the State of Maryland, focusing their practice on estates and trusts, and business-related matters.   Charlie and John established a family first atmosphere within the firm for staff and sought to treat clients the same.

What started as a team of three in 1996, with Charlie, John and Nancy Whiteley as their paralegal/office manager, the firm has grown substantially over the past quarter century but has remained committed to the vision set by Charlie and John 25 years ago.  In 2014, after the passing of John Rhody in 2010, Matthew S. Ballard and Nicholas P. Crivella joined Charlie as stockholders of the firm. Nick was named managing partner of the firm in 2019, and in 2020, Charlie transitioned to an of counsel role as Nick and Matt assumed ownership and leadership of the firm, which now consists of a team of over 16 associates, paralegals, and other staff.  In May 2020, the firm relocated to a new standalone office building on Forest Drive. Today, we remain dedicated to the highest standards of excellence and integrity while continuing to provide unparalleled legal advice to our clients.

“We are proud to celebrate the 25th anniversary of our firm as a staple in the Annapolis legal community,” said Nicholas Crivella, Managing Partner. “We are thankful to our clients and collaborating professionals and excited for the future of our firm as we continue to bolster our offerings to the individuals and closely held business owners that we represent.”

This incredible milestone would not have been possible without the support, trust, and loyalty of our clients and colleagues. We are even more honored knowing that the success of our firm has been built on personal referrals from the strong relationships we have created. Thank you for joining our family and trusting us with your personal and business matters. We look forward to serving you and others for 25 more!

The Holidays And The Gift Of Family Harmony: The Importance Of Proper Estate Planning To Avoid Litigation After Your Passing

This year, when many will not be able to spend the holidays with loved ones because of COVID-19 fears or restrictions, the thoughts and memories of family gatherings at the holidays will likely bring both joy and sadness.  Not all families, however, associate the holidays with harmonious family gatherings.  In recent years, the litigators at our firm have seen an increasing amount of litigation cases resulting from poor or no estate planning.  Many times, the litigation is between siblings that have never gotten along, and once their parents pass away, they are left with no one to try and keep the peace between them.  Sometimes, however, the parents did something, or did not do something, that leads to disputes between family members at the passing of the second to die parent.

Many people forego proper estate planning because of the perceived cost of having an attorney prepare the documents, and the proliferation of online websites offering low-cost, do it yourself estate planning. Others simply don’t want to face their own mortality and engage in the process. This can, however, lead to costly litigation and unintended consequences.

Americans are fascinated with celebrities, and despite their fame and fortune, there are many examples of contested litigation after their passing. Some notable examples of these celebrity estate disputes over the years include: Casey Kasem, Anna Nicole Smith and the Estate of J. Howard Marshall II, Martin Luther King, Jr., Tom Clancy, James Brown, Tony Curtis, Jimi Hendrix, Prince, and. Kurt Cobain. More recently, disputes have arisen in the estate of the “Queen of Soul”, Aretha Franklin, whose situation provides a cautionary tale for those inclined to avoid estate planning, or to prepare documents themselves.

Everyone knows the iconic lyrics to Ms. Franklin’s song “Respect”: “What you want, baby, I got it. What you need, do you know I got it?…. I’m about to give you all of my money; and all I’m askin’ in return, honey….”  Unfortunately, the disposition of all of her money at her death is in limbo, and the Queen of Soul’s actual wishes may be known, but not followed.

On August 16, 2018, it appeared that Ms. Franklin died without a will to govern disposition of assets at her death.  Her four sons expected that her estate would be split evenly between each of them under Michigan’s laws of intestacy, which is the statutory disposition of assets when someone dies without a will.  In 2019, however, Ms. Franklin’s longtime attorneys disclosed the discovery and existence of several handwritten wills, found in one of her homes.  These documents were only signed by her, and contained notes in the margins, or delineations, and crossed out words and provisions.

This surprising turn of events shook up the administration of Ms. Franklin’s estate and pitted family against one another in court.  A Petition for Instructions on Validity and Admission of a Purported Holographic Will was filed on May 20, 2019 submitting three holographic wills to the probate court.[1]  This left it up to the probate court to decide whether these alleged handwritten wills, that contradicted each other, referred to in the legal community as “holographic wills”, are valid and control the disposition of Ms. Franklin’s estate.

In Maryland, the handwritten documents would be held invalid and Ms. Franklin’s estate would be distributed under the laws of intestacy and divided equally among her four sons.[2] This is because Maryland, unlike Michigan, only recognizes holographic wills under extremely limited circumstances, and offers none of the flexibility built into Ms. Franklins home state of Michigan. Maryland only recognizes holographic wills of a Maryland domiciled decedent the armed services and sign the holographic will outside of the U.S., D.C., or any U.S. territory.[3] Even if this limited exception is met, the holographic will is automatically voided one year after the testator is discharged from the armed forces, further limiting its control of the decedent’s estate.[4] To be valid under Maryland law a will must meet the following requirements to be valid: (1) In writing; (2) Signed by the testator, or by some other person for the testator, in the testator’s presence and by the testator’s express direction; and (3) Attested and signed by two or more credible witnesses in the presence of the testator.[5]  These statutory requirements are strictly construed.  For example, a will signed by the testator and witnessed by only one witness, even if that witness is a notary public, is invalid. The only exceptions under Maryland law are, as noted above a valid holographic will, or a will executed by the testator or testatrix in conformance of the laws of their prior place of domicile or where they were physically located when the will was signed.

Michigan, however, has a much broader definition and acceptance of holographic wills. Under Michigan law, such a document is valid “whether or not witnessed, if it is dated, and if the testator’s signature and the document’s material portions are in the testator’s handwriting.”[6] Under Michigan law, extrinsic evidence, outside the four corners of the document and parts of the document not in the testator’s handwriting, is also admissible to prove their intent. Under Maryland law, absent a latent ambiguity[7] in the document, extrinsic evidence is not admissible to prove the testator or testatrix’s intent.

Ms. Franklin, as could many others who die with no will or documents they prepared themselves, could have saved her family the time and expense of protracted probate and litigation if she had proper estate planning in place. The well-known idiom, you get what you pay for, certainly applies in this situation.  The one-size fits all product that has you input information into a computer and spits out a resulting document, may work in some instances, but the lack of personal touch, especially the ability to delve deeper into your specific family situation and needs, can result in a document that fails to address your needs. Similarly, trying to create a legal document by using a sample form you pulled up on the internet, may result in a document that is deemed invalid, or leads to more questions than answers.

The best way to try to ensure that your wishes are followed at your passing, and to try to promote family harmony, is to meet with an attorney and have proper estate planning in place.  Even if the family members don’t see eye to eye on matters, having documents in place that are clear and concise, and in accordance with Maryland law, can help mitigate potential issues and litigation.


[2] Md. Code Est. & Truss § 3-101 and 3-103.

[3] Md. Code Est. & Trusts § 4-103(a).

[4] Md. Code Est. & Trusts § 4-103(b).

[5]Md. Code Est. & Trusts § 4-102.


[7] A latent ambiguity arises when the language at issue is clear on its face but upon introduction of extrinsic evidence, it reveals multiple interpretations. For example, a will that leaves assets to John Smith, could refer to multiple individuals known by the testator or testatrix, which would require introduction of extrinsic evidence to reveal this ambiguity and to help sort out their intent as to which John Smith is referred to in the document.

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