Testamentary Capacity and Family Businesses

Bessemer Trust provides this fascinating brief study of the testamentary capacity and other issues arising from the recent sale of the LA Clippers basketball team by the Sterling Family Trust to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer for a cool $2 billion, following the publication of Mr Sterling’s racist comments and ensuing fine and lifetime ban from the NBA. As people begin to live longer (a good thing), we will see higher stakes contests in and out of court to prove someone did (or didn’t) have testamentary capacity – they could (or couldn’t) have validly signed a will, trust, living will, or power of attorney. Look for some high profile cases to emerge as highly contentious court battles – think celebrity or billionaire divorce trials. And look for creative attorneys to design provisions that hold up better in court or keep these matters out of court using improved negotiations and family dynamic consultations.

My law firmJohnson Law KC LLC, is experienced counseling clients on all aspects of estate planning, asset protection, and helping to structure charitable giving. We can help you answer these questions with confidence and friendly expertise. If we can serve you or your family with your charitable giving questions, please call (913-707-9220) or email us (steve@johnsonlawkc.com) to schedule a free, convenient consultation.

(c) 2014, Stephen M. Johnson, Esq.



Estate Planning Like a Billionaire

Bloomberg has this fascinating article exploring grantor retained annuity trusts (GRATs) and grantor retained income trusts (GRITs) and how they are used by very wealthy business owners to pass assets to the family without incurring estate or gift taxes. (Longtime readers may recall our discussion of Mitt Romney’s large scale estate planning for his family’s estimated $750 million fortune.) Many estate planning attorneys and accountants make a sport of devising creative methods to help clients save money and pass their wealth on to future generations. The ideas aren’t illegal or unethical, they simply utilize gaps in the IRS Code that Congress and/or the Treasury haven’t solved that yield big savings to clients when multiplied by millions of shares in a given company. Estate planners are careful when practicing on the cutting edge of tax law to gauge how much risk the client is willing to take on (e.g. whether the IRS will void a transaction and send the client a tax bill), how much money is at stake, and how reliable/tested a technique is. While the estate planning techniques discussed in the Bloomberg article have been blessed by various authorities (the IRS, the Tax Court, or others), many advanced trust or tax techniques are in a legal grey area – we know X is illegal and we know Y is OK, but what about something between X and Y?

In law school, the first day of estate planning class with Prof. Martin Dickinson, he told us a story about a family business in a small town where a father gave his wife and each of his 4 children a 20% stake in the family business (worth about $5,000 each at the time, the annual gift tax exemption) in 1953. 60 years later, that family business is called Wal Mart and each 20% stake is worth $20 billion. So $100 billion was transferred without estate or gift tax liability. Sam Walton relates the story in his autobiography Made in America and credits his fraternity brother and banker, R. Crosby Kemper Jr., of UMB Bank with helping him develop the business. Here’s Bloomberg’s visual of some of the tricks of the estate planning world.

Inheriting in trust is better than inheriting money in your individual name, as it protects your inheritance from lawsuits, creditors, and divorcing spouses, among other unpleasant life surprises. Inheriting in trust using a discretionary trust provides asset protection. Asset protection uses a separate entity (e.g. a trust or LLC) to hold an asset and protect it from your creditors, divorcing spouses, spendthrift kids, or others. Asset protection trusts are not allowed under Kansas law (see K.S.A. 33-101), but Kansas and Missouri residents can use a Missouri trust to protect assets for generations. Missouri (unlike Kansas) welcomes dynasty trusts – irrevocable trusts designed to pass wealth across families for generations – and allows them to last indefinitely. For clients who anticipate inheriting over $400,000, we recommend a Missouri inheritor’s trust. An inheritor’s trust allows you to protect the assets and keep them off your balance sheet for tax purposes (so you don’t have to worry about estate, gift, or generation-skipping taxes) while having the assets available for your use and enjoyment.

My firm has experience working with individuals and families to serve their business, estate planning, and nonprofit/charitable/philanthropic needs. I enjoy working with a variety of clients – ranging from single young professionals with minimal assets to multimillionaire business owners with complex trusts. My firm has strong relationships with local and national trust companies to help administer all types and ranges of trusts. If my law firm can help you or your family with your estate planningelder lawasset protectionbusiness law needs, or digital estate planning, including a Walton GRAT, a GRIT, or other sophisticated trust 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.    

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.

Trusts on trial

Trust litigation is a growing trend in the estate planning and financial world. A beneficiary may think she’s entitled to more money, accountings, or information that the trustee has given her. A trustee may make a controversial investment or distribution decision that the beneficiary doesn’t agree with and believes violates the trustee’s fiduciary duties. A grantor may not be happy with how the trustee is doing things. On the international trust litigation front, Bloomberg has this article about a recent decision by the New South Wales Supreme Court where a daughter and heir to a large fortune lost her bid to keep the trust dispute in private arbitration, so the trust (all $4 billion of it) is going to trial.

Trusts have traditionally been private law matters, set up by individuals or families for the benefit of family members and friends. Everyone involved hopes that a trust never goes to court or trial, but if the trust does get dragged into court, the parties need good counsel from experienced estate and trust litigation attorneys. Because trusts often involve sensitive family financial matters, details of closely held business operations, complex family dynamics and relationships, and may hinge on state trust or fiduciary duty law, trust litigation is best handled by estate planning attorneys, not general practice trial lawyers. If my firm, Johnson Law KC LLC, can help you or your family in the estate planning process, or in estate or trust litigation, call (913-707-9220) or email me (steve@johnsonlawkc.com) for a complementary consultation.

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

Professional Accountability

The Daily Mail (UK) has this article about the circumstances surrounding the execution of Hughette Clark’s will. Hughette Clark was the reclusive daughter and heir of a wealthy U.S. Senator. (Ms. Clark died at 104 in 2011, having spent about the last 20 years of her life in a hospital room in New York, cut off from her family and friends (by her lawyer and accountant), while her large estates in various states sat unused for decades. Ms. Clark left an estimated fortune of $307 million.) According to papers filed in the New York probate court, where her will is being contested, she was “incoherent and barely able to hold the pen” while signing the documents. To make matters worse, her lawyer, accountant, and the hospital were conspiring to enrich themselves at her expense. Both her lawyer and accountant were to inherit large sums of money from her (her family being cut out entirely) and they apparently took the signed will with them to the local bar to celebrate their good fortune after convincing her to sign the document.

In Kansas and Missouri, lawyers are required to attend legal ethics courses as part of the continuing education requirements. If you don’t attend continuing education, you can’t keep your law license. For attorneys, there are at least 2 glaring ethical violations here: (1) you never allow an incapacitated client to sign a legal document (you always talk with the client first to be sure they know who they are, what they own, and who they want to give it to) and (2) you rarely, if ever, accept any gift in a will from a client. Kansas law says an interested witness (e.g. a lawyer who’s receiving a gift from his client) can’t inherit more than he would be entitled to if the client died without a will. Missouri law has similar provisions. Accepting a gift in a will from a deceased client raises serious ethical issues. Unfortunately, Ms. Clark’s lawyer and accountant did her a great disservice by not acting professionally and by not watching out for her best interests.

At my firm, Johnson Law KC LLC, we work hard to serve every client’s needs with integrity and clarity. If I can help you or a loved one with estate planning, asset protection, elder law, or small business needs, give me a call (913-707-9220) or email me (steve@johnsonlawkc.com) for a convenient, free consultation.

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

Bad Estate Planning: Celebrity Edition

According to this Daily Mail (UK) article, James Gandolfini’s will (following “The Sopranos” star’s recent death in Rome from a heart attack) distributes his $70 million estate so that massive estate taxes (about $30 million) are likely to be owed. One estate planning attorney remarked on the will that ‘It’s a nightmare from a tax standpoint,’ and the will’s segregation of assets was a ‘big mistake’ and the will itself ‘a disaster.’ To be fair, Mr. Gandolfini’s will hasn’t been published yet and it’s not clear whether he had trusts or other entities that held assets. But it sounds like his estate plan may not have been well done, not complex enough for his level of wealth or portfolio structure.

We can learn from the bad estate planning of celebrities and tragic deaths that happen far too early is the importance of good planning. If my law firm, Johnson Law KC LLC, can help you or your family with your estate planning, elder law, asset protection, small business, or probate needs, give me a call (913-707-9220) or email me (steve@johnsonlawkc.com) for a free, convenient consultation.

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