Protecting Estates

The LA Times has this interesting obit of Roger Richman, a California attorney who represented various celebrities’ estates and campaigned for state laws to protect (or tastefully restrict) the use of a deceased celebrity’s image or likeness. This issue involves state and federal law: state law governs estates (probate) and tort (appropriating or misappropriating someone’s name, image, or likeness), while federal trademark law may also come into play. Richman’s work led to beneficial laws for estates of celebrities or other well-known or influential people.

If my law firm, Johnson Law KC LLC, can help you or your family, or a loved one’s estate with your legal needs – estate planning, elder law, asset protection, small business law, or probate – give me a call (913-707-9220) or email me ( for a convenient, complimentary consultation. I have extensive experience working with individuals, families, small businesses, and nonprofits on legal issues large and small – from drafting a basic estate plan for a young couple or young professional client with minimal assets to counseling affluent families with millions of dollars of complex business and real estate holdings.

(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 ( for a complementary consultation.

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

Estate Planning 101

We’ve all heard that every adult needs an estate plan. But what does that mean? What’s are the essentials or the bare basics that you need to protect you and/or your family? T.S. Eliot memorably wrote in The Four Quartets: “What we call the beginning is often the end/And to make and end is to make a beginning./The end is where we start from.” So what’s your estate planning end game? Start from there to figure out how to get there.

An estate plan includes 4 basic documents:

  • Will/trust
  • Living will
  • Durable financial power of attorney
  • Durable medical power of attorney

1. Will/trust

– Tells your executor/trustee how to handle your property and who gets what when you die

-Pour over wills go with a trust

-Married couples can have a joint trust or individual trusts

-Trusts can be separate from your will or integrated with it

2. Living will

-Directions about your end of life choices (e.g. CPR and life support) to avoid a situation like Nancy Cruzan or Terri Schiavo

– Customized based on your faith, convictions, and moral beliefs

3. Durable medical power of attorney

– Gives spouse or child power to make medical decisions (e.g. authorize surgery if you’re injured in a car wreck)

– Gives access to medical records protected by HIPAA and privacy laws

4. Durable financial power of attorney

– Gives spouse or child power  to pay bills on your behalf and handle other financial affairs for you

– Digital estate planning – online account, email, photo, Facebook, LinkedIn access

-Elder law – Medicaid, gift, Veteran’s benefits, and Social Security disability planning

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

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

Estate Planning: Beyond Taxes

Conrad Teitell, a noted tax and non-profit lawyer, has these helpful tips to remind people that while a good estate plan will minimize or completely avoid taxes for your and your family, estate planning is about more much than taxes. I would add that consulting with an estate planning attorney is crucial. Any adult with any complexity in their life (married, divorced, kids, grandkids, house, more than $50,000 in assets, business interests, life insurance, IRAs, favorite charities or college, anticipated inheritance, etc) needs to talk with a lawyer about their estate plan.

Every adult needs a will and/or trust, a living will, and durable financial and medical powers of attorney. Our law firm’s estate planning documents include digital estate planning provisions (for email, social media, digital photos, online banking, and more) standard. While digital estate planning is a cutting edge field and certainly not included in most online legal services or other one-size-fits-all forms, at Johnson Law KC LLC, we listen to your needs and provide custom tailored solutions that will protect you and your family for generations to come. Give us a call (913-707-9220) or email us ( for a free 1/2 hour consultation on your estate plan.

(c) 2012, Stephen M. Johnson, Esq.

Estate Planning Made Easier

Here’s a helpful article from Fox News offering 5 tips for preparing a will and estate planning documents. They are:

1. Make a plan – what do you want to happen to your assets when you die?

2. List your assets – what different accounts, cars, house, and other stuff do you have?

3. Name an executor – who’s going to handle your final affairs and administer your estate?

4. Consult an expert – use a good estate planning attorney, accountant, and financial advisor

5. Leave a note – how do you want your funeral handled? Who should your family call after you die?

While thinking about estate planning is often unpleasant or morbid, we try to make the estate planning process easier and help you gain the peace of mind and assurance that your family is taken care of and well provided for. Whether you’re in Kansas or Missouri, young or old, single or married, wealthy or just starting out your career, we’re here to serve your estate planning needs. Call our office (913-707-9220) or email ( us for a convenient appointment and let’s begin the estate planning journey together, for you and your family’s sake. We offer a free 30 minute consultation and convenient, no surprises flat fee billing to our estate planning clients.

(c) 2012, Stephen M. Johnson, Esq.

Digital Estate Planning: Email Access

Via the Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog comes this helpful article from Elder Law Answers about being sure to include email access in your estate plan.

Many people wisely visit their attorney to make an estate plan to provide for their family and facilitate a smooth transition of their hard earned wealth and handling their last affairs. But most people don’t think about digital estate planning – emails, Facebook, LinkedIn, computer passwords, online banking and investment accounts, YouTube video accounts, Flickr and other photo sharing sites, and even contents of computers and smart phones. Be sure your digital assets are protected with a digital estate plan. If our firm, Johnson Law KC LLC, can help you with your digital estate planning needs, call (913-707-9220) or email us ( for a convenient appointment.

(c) 2012, Stephen M. Johnson, Esq.

Happy Tax Day!

Happy tax day and many happy returns (or refunds, as the case may be)!

In unrelated news, the Daily Mail (UK) has this article about the dangers of using Google to find medical treatments and self-medicating without seeing a doctor about medical issues. A parallel problem exists in the legal world: many people use the Internet to try and solve their legal issues without consulting with an attorney. Remember, if you use an online legal form, you’re doing so at your own risk. If it’s anything important, or that could affect your rights,  your finances, or your family, you should consult with an attorney. Only an attorney has been through three years of law school, passed a bar exam, and become well versed in handling your particular issue. Some online legal resources have useful insights, but many are riddled with errors, hopelessly obsolete, filled with misstatements of the law, or  misleading or incomplete documents that won’t hold up in court (and aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on).

At Johnson Law KC LLC, we constantly review and revise our documents and keep up to the moment on new legal developments to ensure our clients always get the best representation and legal advice. If we can help you or your loved ones, please call (913-707-9220) or email ( for a convenient appointment.

(c) 2012, Stephen M. Johnson, Esq.

To Retire or Not to Retire, That is the Question

The WSJ has this insightful article about the differences in philosophy that married couples may have about retiring. What happens when John and Jane have been married 40 years and he wants to keep working, but she’s ready to retire, or vice versa? As the article discusses, things can get dicey, unless couples work together and communicate about their financial and retirement planning needs, goals, and values.

Nobody likes to talk about money: it’s one of those taboo topics in polite society. But financial planning, like estate planning, conversations are crucial for couples to have as they travel through life together. And they’re also good conversations to have if you’re dating or exploring a relationship at some other time in life. If our office can help have a good conversation about estate planning with your spouse, give us a call (913-707-9220) or email us ( to schedule a convenient appointment. You and your spouse will be grateful that you had the money talk and communicated clearly.

(c) 2012, Stephen M. Johnson, Esq.

Who Inherits Your Debt?

An interesting discussion on CNBC’s website of what happens when you die with different types of debt. Spring is the perfect time of year to review and update your estate plan. Give me a call or email me if I can help you with the estate planning process this spring.

(c) 2012, Stephen M. Johnson, Esq.

Take Your Time …. Hurry Up!

A brief story: In high school trigonometry class, my math teacher used to give us frequent quizzes over basic trigonometry equations and other pre-calculus functions. I vividly recall him pacing up and down the thin aisles of desks (about 20 or 30 students), cradling his hands behind his back, and looking out over the class through his glasses while calling out  “take your time,” then “hurry up!” a few seconds later. It was a charming eccentricity if you weren’t knee deep in a math problem, or an annoying interruption if you were racking your brain to remember that math formula you had stayed up late the night before trying to learn.

The changing economic realities, increased life spans, and increasing standards of living are causing many retirees to go on the “hurry-up offense” with retirement planning. There’s a similar phenomenon in estate planning. The tolling of the New Year bells draws closer, you get married and have a child, you get divorced, a relative dies and you receive an inheritance, or you or your spouse get the dreaded grim health news from the doctor. Time to visit your estate planning attorney.

While several “hurry-up offense” estate planning tactics that can be helpful, I recommend confronting these issues when you are healthy and have some time to contemplate how you want your last affairs handled. We all know that it’s best to make big decisions when you’re calm, relaxed, and feeling great. A Will or trust, living will, and durable financial and medical powers of attorney are the estate planning building blocks that every adult needs. Cross an item off your new year’s to do list, or make a new resolution to take care of your estate planning needs this year. Need to do any digital estate planning for your computer, email, Facebook, LinkedIn, online banking, or other valuable electronic information? Have a small business you’re looking to transition, or thinking about family business succession and your kids? We can help with that too. Call or email us any time to set up a convenient appointment and start off 2012 right with the peace of mind that good planning brings.

(c) 2012, Stephen M. Johnson, Esq.