Marriage and Taxes

You’ve probably seen news stories about the Supreme Court arguments this Tuesday and Wednesday in the gay marriage cases, Hollingsworth v. Perry and Windsor v. United States. This blog doesn’t take political positions, but the Windsor case presents an interesting marriage and tax question. Windsor involves a lesbian couple who were legally married in New York, where one of the spouses died, and the surviving spouse tried to claim a marital deduction for estate tax purposes. One of the federal tax benefits to being married is that the surviving spouse can claim a marital deduction on the estate tax. The government denied the marriage tax benefit in Windsor because under federal law (the Defense of Marriage Act (1996) (“DOMA”)), marriage is defined as between 1 man and 1 woman, so a lesbian couple isn’t married under federal law. So Ms. Windsor, the elderly widow from New York, doesn’t get the marriage tax benefit, even though she was legally married under New York law (marriage is a state law issue, and New York allows same-sex marriage). Ms. Windsor sued the government, arguing that DOMA is unconstitutional, because it prevents her from receiving the tax benefit she would get if federal law recognized her as legally married (like New York’s law did).

So does Ms. Windsor get her tax benefit, does DOMA’s marriage definition fall, or will something else happen? We will know by the end of June, when the Court issues its opinions. Ms. Windsor’s case may well join the annals of tax law stories.

If my office, Johnson Law KC LLC, can help you navigate the complex labyrinth of tax law and estate planning, give me a call (913-707-9220) or email (steve@johnsonlawkc.com) for a convenient free consult.

(c), 2013, Stephen M. Johnson, Esq.

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Inheriting personal property

This Daily Mail article talks about Delta Airlines’ new policy prohibiting transfer of frequent flier miles to family members or friends upon death. Frequent flier miles are a form of personal property – you accumulate them and then trade them for a ticket or two on a flight of your choice – and this is another limitation on transferring (or alienation, as lawyers like to say) of personal property. Is it legal? Sure – if you’re issuing personal property to others, you can specify the conditions (e.g. only this airline, these flights, this time of year, these destinations, etc). Like many licenses, airline tickets (or movie, theater, or sporting game tickets) have restrictions on use, re-use, and transfer. The moral of this story is don’t count on being able to pass your frequent flier miles on to your family.

If my office, Johnson Law KC LLC, can help you or your family with estate planning questions, please call me (913-707-9220) or email me (steve@johnsonlawkc.com) to schedule a free, convenient consultation.

(c) 2013, Stephen M. Johnson, Esq.

Gift Tax Traps

The WSJ has this helpful article, entitled “Gift Taxes: What Your CPA Doesn’t Know” about potential gift tax traps. The article helpfully recommends having your CPA and your attorney collaborate on gift tax returns. Specifically, the article zeroes in on reporting large gifts of real estate, business interests, or other non-routine gifts of stocks and bonds.

The gift tax and generation-skipping transfer (GST) tax are complex estate planning issues. If my office, Johnson Law KC LLC, can help you or your family navigate these challenges this tax season, or work with your CPA to review returns, call (913-707-9220) or email me (steve@johnsonlawkc.com) for a convenient free consult.

(c) 2013, Stephen M. Johnson, Esq.

Surviving IRS Audits

CNBC has this interesting article about how best to handle an IRS audit. While no one wants to be audited by the IRS, Ms. Washington’s article provides some helpful tips for surviving an IRS audit.

If my firm, Johnson Law KC LLC, can help you with tax or other estate planning issues, call (913-707-9220) or email (steve@johnsonlawkc.com) for a convenient free consult.

(c) 2013, Stephen M. Johnson, Esq.

Business Succession Stories

My hometown paper, the Kansas City Star, has this news item about a local family-owned insurance company that was recently acquired by a global insurance company, also with a substantial local presence. One of the family members of the company that was sold described the sale as a “very emotional, but satisfying decision.” Many business owners and entrepreneurs would feel exactly the same way – we invest time, energy, and hard work in our companies much like we would in a family member. A business may continue in the family for generations, or it may transition to new ownership. Regardless, making things work smoothly and minimizing stress and anxiety for business owners, key executives, and employees is vital for a good business succession story.

If my law firm, Johnson Law KC LLC, can help you and your family with your business succession or transition needs, give me a call (913-707-9220) or email me (steve@johnsonlawkc.com) for a convenient free consult.

(c) 2013, Stephen M. Johnson, Esq.

Kansas City Wealth

The Forbes annual billionaire list has many old names and a few fresh faces. This year, 4 Kansas City area residents made the list – Neal Patterson, of Cerner, Donald Hall, of Hallmark, and Min Kao and Gary Burrell, of Garmin. Congratulations to each of them on successfully building and preserving wealth amidst a challenging economic environment.

Most of us won’t be making the Forbes billionaire list any time soon. But most of us do have homes, cars, bank accounts, stocks, or a retirement plan. Everyone from Bill Gates to Joe Six Pack needs estate planning documents. Don’t bet on legal forms from the Internet or library. Two things to think about: (1) if you’re an adult, you need a will, living will, and durable medical and financial powers of attorney, and (2) if your family’s future well being is at stake, you want to be sure everything will work smoothly when it’s needed. If my firm, Johnson Law KC LLC, can serve your estate planning or business transition needs, call (913-707-9220) or email (steve@johnsonlawkc.com) me for a convenient, free consult.

(c) 2013, Stephen M. Johnson, Esq.

Tea with the Queen?

The Daily Telegraph (of Great Britain) has this interesting article about a growing trend among some wealthy Americans of renouncing their American citizenship to become British citizens and take advantage of lower taxes in some situations. On this side of the pond, PGA golfer Phil Mickelson recently made waves by suggesting he might move from California to another state to pay lower taxes.

While we don’t recommend clients move to another state or leave America for tax reasons, we often counsel clients about which states are best for trusts and other estate planning, asset protection, or business issues. Which states allow dynasty trusts that last for generations? Which states give people the best asset protection against potential creditors? Which states are most business-friendly? What’s the difference between Kansas and Missouri trusts and probate? Does Kansas or Missouri give you better bankruptcy protection? We’ve often dealt with these questions and more, so my office, Johnson Law KC LLC, is experienced, ready, and looking forward to help you with your estate planning or other legal needs, please give us a call (913-707-9220) or email (steve@johnsonlawkc.com) for a convenient appointment and free consultation.

(c) 2013, Stephen M. Johnson, Esq.

Reading Your Trust (and Estate Plan)

Read your trust. Yes, I know, reading a will, trust, or almost anything written by a lawyer (except John Grisham or Scott Turow) sounds as appealing as doing your taxes, having a root canal, getting caught in a blizzard, or spending the night in an airport. And understanding “legalese” is even more daunting. Let’s face it: most lawyers don’t write well, and when they do write, they level forests, producing 50 page “briefs”and minor novellas by the hour. Lawyers speak legalese and often leave a trail of misplaced participles, dangling modifiers, and bizarre archaic phrases (e.g. “hereafter,” “heretofore,” “said party of the first part,” “such party of the second party,” “inter alia,” “res ipsa loquitor,” “stare decisis et non quieta movera,” “cy pres,” “stipulated,”  “subsequent,” “give, bequeath, and devise,” and “situate”). Most people don’t read the small print, we all just want to get it done (and leave the details to the professionals). People hire lawyers to apply their wishes and desires for the future to their family’s legal landscape: clients tell lawyers “we want X,” now figure out how to do it. And lawyers are the professionals who what you need in a will, trust, living will, powers of attorney, and who can answer your tax issues, and other vital questions.

If you’d like to work with a lawyer who speaks and writes in plain English and can help you decipher the legalese of your trust and other estate planning documents, give me a call (913-707-9220) or email me (steve@johnsonlawkc.com) for a convenient free consult with my firm, Johnson Law KC LLC. We practice law differently.

(c) 2013, Stephen M. Johnson, Esq.