Churches and Faith-Based Organizations

We are experienced serving churches and faith-based organizations of every denomination, size and description, ensuring that their legal affairs are in order so they can focus on spreading their message, serving their communities and growing their ministries.  For nearly two decades, we have partnered with clients to address everything from church planting to new leadership transitions to buying and selling property to succession planning, while helping leadership address a full spectrum of governance matters.  Our services are comprehensive, and include:

  • General Counsel
  • Business and Corporate 
  • Real Estate
  • Tax, including Tax Disputes
  • Board Advisory
  • Succession Planning
  • Legal Audits
  • Drafting & Review Bylaws
  • Church & Ministry Startup
  • Community & Economic Development
  • Estate Planning
  • Dispute Mediation and Resolution

Whether handling a straightforward legal audit, advising on the purchase, sale or construction of property, or helping a church through an unexpected legal crisis, our philosophy has remained the same: provide the same level of excellence, diligence and counsel for all clients, whether large national denominations or small community churches.  

Tax-Exempt Applications for 501(c)(3) Status
We are experienced in obtaining tax-exempt status for churches and other non-profit organizations.  We have a thorough understanding of the IRS requirements and process for obtaining tax-exempt status, and see each application through to completion.

Bank Financing and Construction Loans
Whether you are renovating an existing church building or purchasing land for construction of a new facility, we can answer your questions and guide you through the complex process from loan acquisition to settlement.

Draft and Review of Church Charters
The Church Charter is a key first step in answering the call to start your Church. We can draft and finalize this crucial document that will help establish your Church as a legal entity. Also, we can assist in the preparation of By-Laws that help in avoiding costly litigation.

Training for Board of Trustees and Officers
Establishing a properly functioning governing body is an integral part of any church or non-profit.  While Board Members may be more than willing to fulfill their obligations, they often need instruction and guidance on how best to carry out these duties.  We are highly experienced in guiding Trustees and Officers to a greater understanding of their role.

Church Lawsuits
In recent years lawsuits against churches have increased dramatically. Larger churches face an even greater risk of litigation. It has been reported that churches with more than 1,000 members have a 1-in-12 chance of being sued. Most lawsuits involve church employees, church property matters, church governance, or allegations of inappropriate relations. This distressing trend means that church leaders must assess their risk, implement appropriate policies, and, if necessary, vigorously defend the church in litigation. We have successfully represented churches to ensure their continuity and protection.  Our deep bench of litigators has substantial in-court trial experience, both regionally and nationally, and many have been recognized in leading publications.

The Church Compliance Conference 2018

Please join Erika E. Cole - The Church Attorney® - and Whiteford, Taylor & Preston for The Church Compliance Conference 2018:

Understanding Leadership in an Age of Risk
A Conference for Pastors & Church Leaders

Meet & Greet continental breakfast, breakout sessions, panel discussion, multiple speakers and catered lunch. 

Succession Plans: Why Your Church Needs One

Erika Cole’s March 2017 article, “Succession Plans: Why Your Church Needs One,” landed on the Top 10 most-read list in 2017 for Church Law & Tax Report (CLTR).

Giving Statements for Churches & Faith-Based Organizations

A Giving Statement is a formal written acknowledgement of a donation provided by the charitable organization recipient of the gift.  The IRS has made clear that a donor “cannot claim a tax deduction for any single contribution of $250 or more unless the donor obtains a contemporaneous, written acknowledgment of the contribution from the recipient organization.” (IRS Publication 1771).  Likewise, tax-exempt charitable organizations are required under the Internal Revenue Code (“IRC”) to provide written acknowledgements of donations to donors under certain circumstances.

How to Keep Your Church Compliant & In Good Standing (Maryland Edition)

There are only a few rules in Maryland for a legal entity to remain compliant with State requirements.  Unfortunately, a variety of reasons including inattentiveness to legal matters, staff turnover and lack of knowledge, yields a high number of non-compliant entities.  Though lack of good standing and non-compliance can be rectified, it poses an otherwise unnecessary expense for entities such as churches that often need to count their pennies. And, more importantly, it can cause liability exposure for church leaders personally.

How to Handle an Emergency at Church

In the wake of the recent mass shooting in Las Vegas, the media has been dissecting the response to the crisis – by hospitals, police, emergency transport, concert venue, etc. It is clear that having a plan in place and training on how to execute the plan is vital to an effective response. Recent church shootings make it clear that emergencies do occur in churches. Having a viable response plan in place is critical to the safety and well-being of congregants, visitors and staff and will serve to minimize potential liabilities of the church for failure to appropriately respond. 

Erika E. Cole, The Church Attorney® to Launch Church and Faith-Based Organization Practice at Whiteford, Taylor & Preston LLP

Whiteford, Taylor & Preston LLP announced today that Erika E. Cole, a preeminent non-profit organization attorney with a significant reputation among churches and faith-based organizations, has joined the firm as a Partner as of July 1, 2017.  Mrs. Cole is one of only a handful of attorneys in the U.S. practicing exclusively in the area of church law.  Over the course of the past 12 years, she has built a national reputation as The Church Attorney®.