IRA v. Roth IRA

CNBC has this interesting column laying out some rules of thumb to consider if you’re contemplating converting a regular IRA into a Roth IRA. The columnist’s 6 rules of thumb are:

  • Convert to a Roth if you will be in a higher tax bracket later
  • Convert to a Roth only within your current tax bracket
  • Convert to a Roth only in the state you know you will be for life
  • The sooner in the year the better
  • Concentrate the stock positions in the Roth and the conservative positions in the traditional IRA
  • Set up different Roth IRAs at the same time (and use varying investment strategies for them)

What do you think? How does a traditional IRA compare to a Roth IRA? When does a Roth IRA conversion make sense? How have you handled your retirement portfolio?

My firm has experience working with individuals and families at all stages of the retirement spectrum. If my law firm can help you or your family with your estate planningelder lawasset protectionbusiness law needs, or digital estate planning, call me (913-707-9220) or email me (steve@johnsonlawkc.com) for a free, convenient appointment.

IRS CIRCULAR 230 Disclosure: Unless expressly stated otherwise, any U.S. federal tax advice contained in this blog post or links is not intended or written by Johnson Law KC LLC to be used to avoid IRS or other tax penalties, and any tax advice cannot be used to avoid penalties that may be imposed by the IRS.

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

Estate Planning and Relationships

About a month ago, I had the pleasure of attending a wedding of two dear friends. A month or so before the wedding, I shared some advice with the groom (I’ve shared the same advice with other friends over the years). Every bride and groom encounter various financial, tax, and legal questions in the busy and chaotic wedding planning time and after the honeymoon’s over and the new couple adjusts to life together. Good planning is crucial. Nobel Laureate T.S. Eliot memorably wrote, “What we call the beginning is often the end/And to make an end is to make a beginning./The end is where we start from.” (The Four Quartets, Little Gidding, V). True with estate planning as with many endeavors in life. So what’s the end game? Start from there to figure out how to get there. 

Pre-wedding tips:

  • Don’t buy your fiancé expensive gifts in his or her name. Whether a car, house/condo, jewelry, vacations, clothes, furniture, artwork, antiques, or other big ticket items, wait until you’re married. Federal law allows you to give your fiancé a gift of up to $14,000 tax free per year, but if the item costs $14,001, you’ll owe gift tax and have to file a gift tax return (not fun or romantic). The IRS says a gift is anything you receive without paying fair market value. (Kansas and Missouri don’t have state gift taxes.) Instead buy the item in your name and give it to your spouse once you’re married, as husbands and wives can give each other unlimited gifts without tax consequences.
  • Don’t add your fiancé to real estate deeds until you’re married. Again, any gift (like a house or farm) over $14,000 will cost you gift tax and require filing a return with the IRS.
  • Don’t pay off your fiancé’s credit cards, car or student loans before you’re married. Gifts are romantic, but gift taxes aren’t. Wait until you’re married.

After the wedding:

  • Execute living wills, and durable medical and financial powers of attorney. These are inexpensive, but vital documents that can last for decades. Your spouse can’t talk with your doctor, authorize surgery, or make financial decisions for you without these documents in place. My firm’s financial powers of attorney include cutting edge digital estate planning and elder law provisions, standard. My firm’s living wills and medical powers of attorney include HIPAA, HITECH, and Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare) privacy releases and can easily be custom tailored at no extra charge to reflect your beliefs and convictions about end of life treatment issues. (Having these done as a single person is wise, especially if you have health issues, travel frequently, or have various assets (family business stock or a small business, home mortgage, intellectual property, etc) – you can change your attorney in fact (or agent) quickly and inexpensively once you’re married.
  • Execute a will and/or trust. Simple, no-frills wills for a couple are economical. Wills that include a trust (testamentary trusts), or pourover wills that leave everything to a standalone trust are also affordable. Kansas law automatically invalidates an existing will when you get married and have a child. Missouri law is different. A will or trust allows you to leave specific instructions for how you want your financial affairs handled, how much your spouse and children receive, who cares for your child, and so on. Kansas and Missouri both allow a separate personal property list (highly recommended) to leave specific items to different family members or friends. Whether you’ve got $5,000 in student loans or $5 million in your stock portfolio, you need a will or trust. If you die intestate (without a will), your family will pay more for probate administration and endure a longer, more complex court process than if you have a will. And who wants the government to dictate how their things are distributed and who gets what? My firm has worked on dozens of probate estates in Kansas and Missouri, but it’s easier on everyone to plan ahead. Avoid LegalZoom, Rocket Lawyer, and other do-it-yourself books or websites – I’ve seen (and fixed) online/DIY documents for clients that any practicing attorney would’ve been embarrassed to have drafted. Like many other services, you get what you pay for – good planning requires expertise. My firm has the training and expertise to guide you through the process, leavened with friendly counsel.

A few other ideas for newlyweds:

  • Joint or separate bank accounts
  • Change IRA/retirement plan beneficiary to spouse
  • Change life insurance beneficiary to spouse
  • Car titles – joint or separate
  • Real estate – joint or separate – joint tenancy in Kansas or Missouri; tenancy by the entirety in Missouri
  • If you’re moving to another state once you’re married, you have about 30 days to change your driver’s license, legal name, etc

My firm has experience working with young professionals, young families, and newlyweds to make the estate planning simple, easy, and inexpensive. My firm also has experience working with high net worth individuals and families with tens of millions in assets, closely held businesses, real estate, and other issues. We provide reliable, easy to understand documents so you can rest easy and enjoy your life. Give me a call (913-707-9220) or email me (steve@johnsonlawkc.com) to schedule a convenient, free consultation.

IRS CIRCULAR 230 Disclosure: Unless expressly stated otherwise, any U.S. federal tax advice contained in this blog post or links is not intended or written by Johnson Law KC LLC to be used to avoid IRS or other tax penalties, and any tax advice cannot be used to avoid penalties that may be imposed by the IRS.

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

Billionaires Win Through the Financial Crisis

According to this CNBC story, most of America’s billionaires have done very well amid the financial crisis and its aftermath, known to the history books as the Great Recession. Billionaires’ combined global worth has doubled. 61% are self made. 87% are men. 86% are married. And they’re quite mobile, with an average of 4 homes and 2 children.

Most of us will never have to worry about being billionaires, but good financial and estate planning is important for everyone. If my law firm, Johnson Law KC LLC, can help you or your family with your estate planning, elder law, asset protectionbusiness law needs, or digital estate planning, call me (913-707-9220) or email me (steve@johnsonlawkc.com) for a free, convenient appointment.

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

 

Small Business Law 101

There are 3 stages in the business law cycle, all of which my law firm, Johnson Law KC LLC, can help you and your business by coming alongside to provide experienced, friendly counsel leavened with an understanding of business, economic, and financial issues. The 3 business stages are: (1) formation, (2) maintenance/compliance, and (3) succession.

(1) Formation – At the formation stage, choice of entity and other considerations arise. Should the business be a corporation (C corporation or S corporation), a partnership, a limited partnership (LP), a limited liability partnership (LLP), a limited liability company (LLC), a series LLC, a professional corporation or professional association, or a family limited partnership (FLP)/family LLC? How will the business’ owners and employees, and other players relate to each other?

  • A sole proprietorship is the simplest form of business, where the owner gets all the profits, but is liable for all debts and losses, and doesn’t enjoy any limited liability.
  • C corporations and S corporations take their names from respective IRS Code chapters. Corporations have to follow corporate formalities, but get limited liability for their actions in return. Kansas corporations are formed under the Kansas General Corporation Code (K.S.A. 17-6001 et seq.), patterned after Delaware corporate law, while Missouri corporations are formed under The General and Business Corporation Law of Missouri (V.A.M.S. 351.010 et seq.).
  • A partnership (a/k/a general partnership) is a joint business venture between 2 or more equal partners. Both partners are entitled to a share of the profits, but both are also liable for the partnership’s losses and debts. Since 1998, Kansas partnerships have been governed by the Kansas Uniform Partnership Act (K.S.A. 56a-101 et seq.), while since 1949, Missouri partnerships have been formed under the Uniform Partnership Law (V.A.M.S. 458.010 et seq.).
  • A limited partnership (LP) has a general partner (who has voting rights and is liable for the partnership’s losses and debts) and one or more limited partners (who have limited liability, but don’t have voting rights). Kansas LPs can be formed under the Kansas Revised Uniform Limited Partnership Act (1983) (RULPA) (K.S.A. 56-1a101 et seq.), while Missouri LPs trace their lineage to the Uniform Limited Partnership Law (1985) (V.A.M.S. 359.011 et seq.).
  • A limited liability partnership (LLP) is a group of limited partners who enjoy voting rights and limited liability – many law firms, accounting firms, and other professional organizations are organized as LLPs. Kansas LLPs are formed under the Kansas Uniform Partnership Act (1998) (K.S.A. 56a-1001 et seq.), while Missouri LLPs are formed under the Uniform Limited Partnership Law (1985) (V.A.M.S. 359.172 et seq.).
  • A limited liability company (LLC) has members who have an interest in the firm, where a corporation has shareholders who own shares of stock or a stake in the firm. An LLC can be a single member or have multiple members. Single member LLCs are usually disregarded for IRS tax purposes (and taxed as a sole proprietorship) unless they elect S corp tax treatment. LLCs with multiple members are taxed like partnerships (flow through to individual partners) but with the limited liability of a corporation. Kansas LLCs are formed under the Kansas Revised Limited Liability Company Act (1999), part of the Kansas General Corporation Code (K.S.A. 17-7662 et seq.), while Missouri LLCs are formed under the Missouri Limited Liability Company Act (1993) (V.A.M.S. 347.010 et seq.).
  • A series LLC is a new business form in Kansas and Missouri. A series LLC has a parent LLC that acts like an umbrella to consolidate administrative and tax treatment into 1 entity, and an unlimited number of daughter series under the parent LLC’s umbrella, which can each have distinct business purposes, ownership, and functions. My law firm, Johnson Law KC LLC, is on the cutting edge of counseling local companies, small businesses, and entrepreneurs on using series LLCs. Kansas series LLCs (2012) are governed under Kansas LLC law (K.S.A. 17-76,143), while Missouri series LLCs (2013) are governed by the Missouri LLC law (V.A.M.S. 347.186)
  • A professional association (Kansas) or professional corporation (Missouri) is a special corporate form for regulated professionals – accountants, attorneys, doctors, etc – in a particular state. PAs and PCs can have one or multiple members, but each member must be licensed in the particular profession that the PA or PC practices.
  • A family limited partnership (FLP) or family LLC is an LP or LLC often used among family members for various business purposes. A family may own land, a second home, or a business property in a FLP or family LLC. A FLP has a general partner (with voting rights and unlimited liability) and limited partners (no voting rights but limited liability). Many FLPs will have a parent or grandparent as the general partner owning 1% (or so) of the FLP and children or grandchildren as the limited partners owning a majority of the FLP. FLPs and family LLCs can be advantageous for business and estate planning purposes, but must have a valid business purposes and must be carefully designed and maintained to avoid audits and heightened IRS scrutiny.

(2) Maintenance/Compliance – At the maintenance/compliance stage, the requirements for different kinds of business organizations are vastly different. Talk of maintenance or compliance often conjures up visions (or nightmares) of annual corporate minutes, annual reports, state and federal securities laws. Sole proprietorships have very little, if any, regular maintenance or compliance, but they also offer no liability protection – so no paperwork, no protection. C corporations and S corporations must file annual reports listing major shareholders and other relevant corporate data with the Secretary of State’s office in the state of incorporation (Topeka, Kansas or Jefferson City, Missouri). Likewise, C corporations and S corporations must have annual shareholder meetings, regular board of director meetings, and keep minutes from these meetings. Regular meetings and minutes ensures that the corporation is being honest and transparent with shareholders and giving them a chance to voice their approval (or concern) about the corporation’s leadership and governance direction. Many corporations must also comply with federal securities laws (primarily the Security Act of 1933 and Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and applicable SEC regulations) and state securities or Blue sky laws in the Kansas Uniform Securities Act (dating back to 1911) (K.S.A. 17-12a101 et seq.) and Missouri Uniform Securities Act (2003, dating back to 1956) (V.A.M.S. 409.107 et seq.). Corporations must also comply with applicable state and federal tax laws. Partnerships, LPs, LLPs, LLCs, series LLCs, and FLPs/family LLCs must file annual reports with the Secretary of State’s office and follow other applicable corporate, securities, and/or tax laws.

(3) Succession – at the succession stage, a business owner must decide whether to pursue a merger & acquisition (M&A), wind down, estate/tax planning for owners and/or key members, buy-sell agreements, installment sales, or other succession techniques. A business may be perpetual, but an individual’s ownership is not. Serial entrepreneurs may want to start their next business adventure. An entrepreneur who shepherded a business idea from the napkin drawing to sale to a large company may want to retire or embrace another phase of life. A business owner may want to hand the reins off to his children or her carefully chosen and groomed successors among the management or executive team. My law firm has experience counseling business owners and key executives on M&A issues, wind downs and dissolutions, estate and tax planning, asset protection, and other business succession issues.

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

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

Good (Celebrity) Estate Planning

Last week brought bad news for music fans that rock and roll legend Lou Reed had died. Fortunately for Reed and his family, he planned ahead and had his financial affairs and estate planning documents prepared. While he lived a thrilling and unconventional life, his estate plan was standard – leaving everything to his wife and family. As an acclaimed musician and artist, he was wisely counseled to think about who would handle the copyrights and licensing for his music. When clients have IP portfolios, experienced counsel is needed to ensure copyrights, trademarks, patents, and licensing are handled correctly after a client’s death. Reed’s good celebrity estate planning stands in marked contrast to this case and others of bad celebrity estate planning. Celebrities are like the rest of us – we all need proper planning and peace of mind, they just have more assets and more complexity than most of the rest of us.

If you or a loved one have intellectual property – copyrights, trademarks, or patents – you need an experienced attorney to serve your estate planning needs and ensure your IP portfolio is handled well into the future. My firm has experience with estate planning and counseling clients on their IP portfolios and succession planning with those. Call my firm (913-707-9220) or email me (steve@johnsonlawkc.com)for a convenient, free consultation. Even if you don’t have an IP portfolio, you probably have digital assets (emails, photos, videos, computer files, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, a blog, etc). My firm produces reliable and cutting edge estate planning documents that include digital estate planning and elder law provisions, standard and at no extra cost. My firm is also experienced handling probate and trust administration – ensuring your Will proceeds smoothly through probate, or that your Trust works seamlessly to avoid probate and ensure your legacy for your family, business, and favorite charities. My law firm, Johnson Law KC LLC, can serve you or your family’s estate planningasset protectionelder law, or business needs. My firm looks forward to serving you and your family with reliable, friendly experience and counsel at an affordable cost.

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

Settling Large Estates

The NY Times has this interesting article about an estate and trust litigation settlement that has been reached in the Huguette Clark case in New York. Ms. Clark, who died in 2011 at age 104, leaving behind a roughly $300-500 million estate, elected to be a recluse for much of her adult life. Her story is told sympathetically and even-handedly by the recent book Empty Mansions (2013). (The title comes from a series of news stories about her mansions in Santa Barbara, CA, New York, and Connecticut which were left untouched and sat vacant for decades) Settling the estate was a wise decision by the various parties involved: ”Both the family and the beneficiaries had reasons to settle. Rolling the dice at a trial can mean losing everything. Both sides had already spent a great deal on pretrial research and legal fees. And a trial would be an exhausting endeavor, expensive for everyone, last weeks or months.” Empty Mansions, 345

 

The legal dispute over Clark’s estate arose because she executed 2 wills a few weeks apart in 2005: 1 Will left most of her estate to her surviving relatives (distant cousins, nieces, nephews), and another Will created a foundation in the Santa Barbara mansion and left large gifts to her healthcare providers, attorney, accountant, and mostly excluded her family. The distant relatives weren’t as concerned about inheriting part of her fortune as they were about the apparent manipulation of her by doctors, nurses, accountants, attorneys, and others, who took advantage of her generosity for private lucre. (More about those issues in future posts.) Still by all accounts, Ms. Clark ”lived a surprisingly rich life of love and loss, of creatively and quiet charity, of art and imagination. Though the platitude – money can’t buy happiness – may be comforting to those who are less than well heeled, great wealth doesn’t ensure sadness either.” Empty Mansions, 353.

Huguette was a daughter and an heir of Sen. W.A. Clark, a copper baron of the Gilded Age whose wealth was of a similar magnitude to Rockefeller, Carnegie, Mellon, and other Gilded Age business owners. Unlike his Gilded Age contemporaries, Sen. Clark did not due smart estate or business succession planning: ”The W.A. Clark business empire was not built for longevity, collapsing soon after its founder handed it to his children. While his Gilded Age contemporaries typically operated through hierarchies of executives and managers, creating vast corporate entities, W.A. ran his companies as essentially sole proprietorships, which he ruled autocratically. Having attended to every detail of his companies personally W.A. failed in succession planning.” Empty Mansions, 142.

One of her distant relatives summed up the issues she faced as the steward of a large estate: ”I think having such wealth can lead some people to have a lack of self-worth because of not having developed a lucrative career of their own or even having investigated their own potential. Having an overabundance of wealth can make people insecure around others who have far less than they do, since the former might wonder if potential partners or even friends are ‘only’ after them for their money. Well-meaning people of excessive wealth can feel anxious about the lack of perfection of charities they support, and about the fact that even as willing patrons they are powerless to obliterate suffering – all the while knowing that any small amount of money that they might spend on themselves is still enough to change or even save some lives. Wealth can lead to guilt over the unfairness of people working endlessly for them who have never been included fully into the family. In sum, having immense wealth can lead one to feel isolated and to have a false sense of being special.” Empty Mansions, 328 – 329.

Look for more posts soon on the Huguette Clark saga and lessons we can all learn from her story. In the meantime, if you need an experienced attorney to serve your estate planning needs (anything from a simple will, living will, and power of attorney, to complex business and tax planning with dynasty trusts for multiple generations), call my firm (913-707-9220) or email me (steve@johnsonlawkc.com) for a convenient, free consultation. My firm is also experienced handling probate and trust administration – ensuring your Will proceeds smoothly through probate, or that your Trust works seamlessly to avoid probate and ensure your legacy for your family, business, and favorite charities. My law firm, Johnson Law KC LLC, can serve you or your family’s estate planningasset protectionelder law, or business needs, . My firm looks forward to serving you and your family with reliable, friendly experience and counsel at an affordable cost. One valuable lesson for us all from Huguette Clark’s life is don’t leave your legacy and your family’s inheritance at the mercy of a court settlement.

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

It Don’t Mean a Thing if it Hasn’t Been Executed

With apologies to the Duke Ellington Orchestra’s 1934 rendition of the great jazz standard “It Don’t Mean a Thing” (if it ain’t got that swing), here’s an interesting LA Times piece about a family where a child was promised for years (decades even) that he would inherit a house, but the parent’s Will was never signed. Kansas and Missouri both require Wills to be signed by witnesses to be valid. A Kansas Will must be signed by 2 disinterested witnesses (people who won’t inherit anything) and notarized, then filed with the county probate court within 6 months of your death to validly pass property (see K.S.A. 59-601 et seq.). A Missouri Will must be signed by 2 or more disinterested witnesses and notarized, then filed with the country probate court within 1 year of your death to validly pass property (see V.A.M.S. 474.310 et seq.). While an adult can write their own Will, consulting an experienced estate planning attorney, such as my law firm, Johnson Law KC LLC, is highly recommended to ensure your wishes are carried out according to your desires and that no federal tax or state probate issues arise after your death. Don’t be like the family in the LA Times that didn’t execute documents or did homemade documents that didn’t hold water legally and found out when it was too late – call or email my firm today for an affordable, professional solution to your estate planning needs and make an investment in your financial well being and your family’s future. My firm is experienced handling the full estate planning spectrum, from a simple will, living will, and power of attorney, to complex business and tax planning with dynasty trusts for multiple generations. My firm is also experienced handling probate and trust administration – ensuring your Will goes through the Probate Court smoothly, or that your Trust works as intended for your family, business, and favorite charities.

If my law firm, Johnson Law KC LLC, can serve you or your family’s Wills or trusts, living wills, powers of attorney, estate planningasset protectionelder law, or business needs, call me (913-707-9220) or email me (steve@johnsonlawkc.com) for a convenient, complimentary consultation. My firm looks forward to serving you and your family with reliable, friendly experience and counsel at an affordable cost. Don’t leave your family’s inheritance up in the air this autumn season.

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

7 Reasons Why You Need a Trust

Fox Business has this brief, helpful article with 7 reasons why a person would want or need a trust.

They are:

1. Don’t Want Children to Inherit at Age 18

2. Asset Protection from Creditors

3. Someone Else at the Helm

4. Complicated Family Situation

5. Avoid the Probate

6. Take Care of a Disabled Child

7. Safeguard Your Privacy

All 7 of these are good reasons to consider a trust. My firm often works with clients wanting or needing asset protection, privacy, avoiding probate, or caring for a disabled child (or parent). Trusts come in a variety of options and are affordable, smart choices for many clients. If my law firm, Johnson Law KC LLC, can serve you or your family’s estate planningasset protectionelder law, special needs trusts, or business needs, call me (913-707-9220) or email me (steve@johnsonlawkc.com) for a convenient, complimentary consultation. My firm looks forward to serving you and your family with reliable, friendly experience and counsel at an affordable cost. And there’s no better time than before the holiday rush, amid the beautiful autumn colors, to get your financial affairs settled.

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