There are hundreds of lawyers in Montgomery County who can write your will, help name an executor, draft a medical directive and give power of attorney to someone who could make end-of-life decisions for you.

Hiring a top specialist in wills and trusts will cost from $3,000 to $5,000 in most instances. “The client is paying for someone to listen and to express the client’s uniqueness in a will that fulfills their particular needs,” says Michelle Chapin of Paley Rothman in Bethesda. “Wills are not one size fits all.”

Choosing a lawyer to draft or revise an estate plan is an important decision. So we asked dozens of local estate attorneys who they would use to write their wills. Here are the 17 who were recommended most often:

Charles Abell
W. Shepherdson “Shep” Abell, co-founder of Furey, Doolan & Abell, Montgomery County’s most venerable firm specializing in wills, estates and trusts, has largely stepped aside from practicing full time. Going forward, he has left the Bethesda firm in the able hands of his son, Charles Abell, 48, a University of Virginia law school graduate who has top credentials. He is a former law clerk for U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan and joined the family firm in 2000 after starting out at D.C.’s Covington & Burling. Says one fellow attorney, “I’ve had a number of matters with him over the years and I find him to be very knowledgeable [and] approachable, and his clients really seem to respect him and enjoy working with him.”

Lena Barnett
The founder of Lena Barnett & Associates in Bethesda, Barnett was once one of the most visible and best-known estate attorneys in the Washington, D.C., area, and was a popular lecturer, speaker and television personality for many years. These days, Barnett, 59, has cut back on her TV work, but the University of Maryland law school graduate is still praised by clients, especially for her communication skills. After three decades in practice, Barnett has a gift for making complicated situations understandable, clients say. “A tax plan has to fit with the goals, values and lifestyle of a client,” she says. “You don’t let the tax changes wag the dog.” Unlike most estate attorneys, Barnett says she usually charges a flat rate for the documents she prepares.


Ann Jakabcin

Ann Jakabcin is a 35-year veteran of Stein Sperling Bennett De Jong Driscoll in Rockville. A native of Washington, D.C., she grew up in Reading, Pennsylvania. After graduating from D.C.’s Trinity Washington University, she received a law degree from Temple University in Philadelphia and became a tax planner for family businesses. For many years, Jakabcin, 66, has been known for her fierce loyalty to her clients, including many small-business owners, though she has recently cut back on her practice. Colleagues say “she knows her clients well and writes tax plans that make sense.” One colleague says Jakabcin practices law the same way she plays bridge: “Steady, solid and thinks about something before she does it.”
Steven Widdes

The head of the estates department at Stein Sperling Bennett De Jong Driscoll in Rockville, Steven Widdes, 66, is one of the most liked and respected estate attorneys in the area. A native of Duluth, Minnesota, he graduated from Drake University’s law school in Iowa before coming to Washington, D.C., to work at the Internal Revenue Service. Widdes subsequently worked for a religion-based charitable organization, where his job was to persuade members to include a donation in their wills. Widdes hasn’t forgotten that job and often stresses the importance of charitable giving when dealing with clients. “If you give away 4 to 6 percent in total to charities, your children are not going to starve,” he frequently tells them.

Mary Beth Beattie
A solo practitioner in Rockville, Mary Beth Beattie, 61, occasionally mentors young attorneys or law students looking for experience. Beattie, a George Washington University law school graduate, has been in Rockville since 1996 and has 29 years of experience in the field. She is active in estate and county bar organizations and well known by her peers, two of whom say she drafts clear and professional documents that are error-free.

Rachel D. Burke
Rachel Burke, 42, grew up in Chevy Chase and graduated from Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart in Bethesda. An attorney at Furey, Doolan & Abell in Bethesda, she got her law degree from Washington and Lee University in Virginia and later worked in Washington, D.C., for Lloyd Leva Plaine, one of the best-known estate attorneys in the country. Her areas of experience include the “generation-skipping transfer tax,” in which the law allows lower tax rates to apply when wealth is passed in certain ways to grandchildren or other substantially younger beneficiaries.