Conflicts of interest

This Daily Mail article highlights a classic case of lawyers (and accountants) getting removed from a case by the judge because of conflicts of interest, in the Clark case, for each being slated for an $8 million bequest from the estate. This is a classic legal ethics question that confronts estate planning attorneys – can the lawyer accept a gift from the estate of the deceased? Short answer is “no.” If a lawyer drafts estate planning documents for family members, the relative is entitled to independent legal counsel if they so choose and the lawyer may not receive more than an intestate share of the estate (e.g. what they would’ve received if the relative had died without a will). A client can theoretically leave gifts to their lawyer or other professional advisors in a will or trust, but those gifts are automatically suspect and best practice is to only be paid your attorney’s fees and not accept gifts from a client’s estate.

If you need legal counsel with year end estate planning or if you’re an attorney who has a conflict of interest and need independent legal counsel to help, give me a call or send me an email. Merry Christmas and see you in the New Year – 2012, here we come!

(c) 2011, Stephen M. Johnson, Esq.


Time to Sell Your Small Business?

Interesting NY Times article about business owners thinking of selling in the current economy. There’s a wonderful piece of old-fashioned, homespun wisdom quoted: “success is when opportunity and preparation intersect.” Successful business people have to be alert for new and emerging opportunities to capitalize on those venues and maximize their enterprise profitability. Perhaps a few business successes come down to being in the right place in the right time, serendipity, or luck, but most business people (and certainly most lawyers) would say that chance favors the prepared – you have to do your homework, which will often show you openings or opportunities that your competitors don’t see. Or as one early rising quipster put it, the comfort of being awake near dawn is “my competition is still sleeping,” so an edge or lead can be acquired. In this economy, business people and successful individuals must capitalize on every edge or lead they can find or create to distinguish themselves and get ahead.

The article’s advice reminds me of a piece of financial/investment advice I read a couple years ago in The Great Depression Ahead by (gloom and doom) economist Harry S. Dent. If I can help you in the process of selling your business or thinking about the pros and cons of the sale decision, give me a call or email me to set up a convenient appointment. If you are going to sell your business, getting the wheels of the deal in motion before December 31 is ideal for tax purposes.

(c) 2011, Stephen M. Johnson, Esq.

2011 Year End Tax and Investment Tips

CNBC has this article with helpful year end tax and investment tips. Call or email me if I can help you with your year end planning.

(c) 2011, Stephen M. Johnson, Esq.

An IPO for Christmas?: How Families Cash Out of Family Businesses

Interesting article from the Wall Street Journal regarding the Schusterman family’s recent $7 billion pay day from the sale of their family business’s assets. If I can help you or your family handle your family business’s legal needs or wealth transition issues, give me a call or email at your convenience.

(c) 2011, Stephen M. Johnson, Esq.

2011 Year End Tax Moves

Here are the Wall Street Journal’s recommendations. If I can help you with year end estate planning, gift, or other needs, call or email me at your convenience.

(c) 2011, Stephen M. Johnson, Esq.

New York: America’s Wealth Center

Not surprisingly, New York City has once again claimed the prize for highest concentration of wealthy Americans. Ever since America’s primary wealth creation shifted from rural, agricultural landowners to the financial industry, New York has been America’s wealth center.

(c) 2011, Stephen M. Johnson, Esq.

When Life Imitates Fiction

This Daily Mail (British newspaper) article on the reclusive New York heiress Huguette Clark caught my attention recently. Despite being a wealthy New York socialite with opulent homes around the country, she opted to live a reclusive lifestyle for some 80 years. She executed one Will leaving her estate to her family, some cousins. Two weeks later, she executed another Will leaving her estate mainly to a foundation run by her lawyer and accountant, while entirely disinheriting her family. John Grisham fans may recall some parallels to the opening of his bestselling novel The Testament, though fortunately Ms. Clark died of natural causes and old age, not foul play or suicide (as Mr. Grisham’s imagined testator died in the opening chapter). If I can help you or a loved one execute a Will, revise your Will, or discuss your estate planning needs, call or email me at your convenience.

(c) 2011, Stephen M. Johnson, Esq.

Private Foundations: an Estée Lauder Estate Planning Tactic

Interesting NY Times article regarding the heirs of the Estée Lauder empire and how they use private foundations and other legal entities as part of their comprehensive estate planning strategy. If I can help you develop your estate planning strategy or implement some part of it, call or email me at your convenience.

(c) 2011, Stephen M. Johnson, Esq.

Estate sales

Here’s a fascinating Washington Post story about an estate sale for the wife of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart. The estate sale offered a window into Washington social life during Justice Stewart’s career and also allowed a few aspiring lawyers to obtain some classic memorabilia, such as the Justice’s briefcase. A lawyer’s soft leather briefcase, just like his or her pen and legal pad (or computer and smart phone), is an integral part of the lawyer’s practice and professional image and reputation.

If you need help organizing an estate sale, administering the estate of a loved one or close friend, or advice on your own estate plan, give me a call or email at your convenience.

(c) 2011, Stephen M. Johnson, Esq.

The Return of the Millionaire Next Door

Reading this recent profile of the paradoxes of Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney in the NY Times reminded me of the classic financial and investment advice book, The Millionaire Next Door (1998). Whatever one thinks of Governor Romney’s politics, his apparent embrace of the frugal millionaire philosophy appears wise from a financial, investment, and estate planning perspective. Those interested in studying this frugal philosophy would also profit from The Millionaire Mind (2001), by the same author. A good estate plan should protect you and your family’s interests from unnecessary taxes and/or probate proceedings, while also staying out of your way to let you live your life with purpose and pleasure, enjoying the good and simple things of life that you’ve worked so hard for.

(c) 2011, Stephen M. Johnson, Esq.