Becoming a Philanthropist

The WSJ has this interview with  Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen, a Stanford business school lecturer and leading philanthropist in Silicon Valley. Her Stanford course is to be offered free online. She argues that individual philanthropists (whether of the $10 or $10 million variety) tend to give sympathetically, instead of strategically.

If my law firm, Johnson Law KC LLC, can help you or your family with your estate planning needs or with establishing structures to facilitate your philanthropic goals, give me a call (913-707-9220) or email me ( for a convenient, free consultation.

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

Is New York “Offshore?”

The NY Times has this fascinating article about the recent corporate tax controversy of large global companies parking money in international holding companies that have domestic bank accounts or investments. But poof (now you see it; now you don’t) – by tax accounting magic, the money’s held internationally. America has the highest corporate tax rate in the developed world –  35%. Some other countries, like Ireland, have much lower tax rates, so having the money held by an Irish subsidiary in a New York bank account yields a substantially lower (say 13%) tax rate.

While offshore bank accounts (for individuals or corporations) are often discussed in political terms, they’re a bipartisan issue. While companies some might view as conservative do it (like oil and gas companies), so do seemingly more moderate or even liberal giants like Microsoft, Google, and Apple. (A few months back, Apple passed ExxonMobil as the biggest company by market cap – all those iPhones, iPads, and iPods everybody loves fueled its rise to the coolest big business on the planet.) And wealthy folks of all political stripes like Mitt Romney, Al Gore, Terry McAuliffe, and Penny Pritzer have offshore accounts or investments. Why? Lower tax bills. Whether you think offshore holdings are great or terrible, the math tells the story.

The unfortunate moral of the story is the obscene complexity of America’s tax law – call it the lawyers’ and accountants’ full employment act. Most Americans, whether conservative or liberal, favor a less complex IRS Code. Meanwhile, if my law firm, Johnson Law KC LLC, can help you or your family with your personal estate planning or small business needs, give me a call (913-707-9220) or email me ( for a free consultation.

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

Talking to Family about Inheritances

CNBC has this article about a recent US Trust study about when parents should talk to their children (and grandchildren) about inheritances. As the article points out, many children of wealthy families realize they’re wealthy based on the lifestyle they enjoy. But there’s a big difference between knowing “My family’s wealthy and takes exotic vacations” and knowing “Mom & Dad have XYZ income each year, a house held in ABC trust, a controlling interest in Family Co LLC, a vacation home also held in trust, and a net worth of $_______.” When to tell family members specifics is an important question to consider in careful consultation with your family’s accountant, attorney, and other professional advisors. As the article suggests, maturity levels, financial acumen, and other factors come into play. But as the article rightly concludes, “even if parents don’t give their kids “the number” for their wealth, they should at least give them the skills and the values to manage it well.”

Beyond the tax and legal details of structuring entities that attorneys and other wealth advisors do, imparting skills and values to manage a legacy is vital. Without the skills and values, a child or grandchild may not know how a family member became wealthy, why a family member managed their lifestyle as they did, or what legacy the wealth should have. I encourage clients to be open and honest with their families when the time comes to discuss inheritance and legacy. But don’t just give your family the numbers, give them the context and share your values and passion and legacy with them.

If my law firm, Johnson Law KC LLC, can help you or your family with estate planning or asset protection needs, or give you ideas for spurring these important conversations with your family, please call (913-707-9220) or email me ( for  a convenient free consultation.

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

Intent, Trusts, and No Contest Clauses

The Kansas Supreme Court recently issued an interesting decision in Hamel v. Hamel, arising from Rooks County, Kansas (north central Kansas). Hamel teaches us 3 lessons: as you contemplate estate planning, business succession, and your wealth management goals, be sure (1) your estate planning documents clearly communicate your intent , (2) others (family members and professional advisors) understand your intent, and (3) your estate planning documents provide broad discretion and the necessary powers to handle various transactions. Intent matters and clearly communicating your intent makes all the difference.

Hamel involved Lawrence Hamel, a trust beneficiary and child of the decedent, Arthur Hamel, challenging his father’s trust, specifically whether the trustee had authority to sell farmland owned by the trust. Arthur’s trust said another son (who was a trustee of the trust), Dennis,  had priority (or first refusal rights) to buy the land owned by the trust, and that Dennis had 3 years to buy the land from the trust. Dennis signed an installment sale contract to buy the land over 6 years, paying 5% interest (no interest during the 6th year), funding the purchase with money from the trust with a mere $10,000 down payment, and for Dennis to get all the income and profit the land generated during the 6 years. So Dennis wanted to self deal with the trust on very favorable terms (he was a trustee in his fiduciary capacity and the buyer in his individual capacity, a conflict of interest which the trust waived), have a year of payments interest fee, minimal down payment, and get the land’s revenue before he owned the land. Not surprisingly, Dennis’ brother Lawrence objected. Lawrence pointed out that while their father had wanted Dennis to have the land and permitted favorable inter-family sale terms, the deal had to be done within 3 years, not 6. Enter the trust’s no contest clause, which said if you object to the sale or other trust administration aspects, you lose your inheritance.

This family’s trust dispute wound up at the Kansas Supreme Court. The Justices, in an 8-1 opinion, agreed with Lawrence that the 6 year installment sale to Dennis was too long, since the trust only allowed for 3 years. Instead of enforcing the no contest clause (and disinherit Lawrence for his objections to the farm sale), the Court found that Lawrence had probable cause to challenge the sale of the farm from the trust to his brother. The Court found probable cause in the 3 year sale provision: “while the Trustees [Dennis and a sister] possessed broad authority to sell the Trust real estate, they were not authorized to enter into a contract for the sale of the farmland that extended beyond the 3-year period specifically provided by the Trust.” (Hamel, pg. 24) The installment sale could go far, but not that far. As the Court saw it, Lawrence was just looking out for the Trust’s best interests (the Trustee’s job and fiduciary duty), when the Trustees were cutting corners, so of course he could object and make the Trustees follow the Trust’s rules. The Court didn’t address it, but there may also have been tax traps lurking beneath the surface of this installment sale. The IRS looks closely at inter-family sale and transactions and asks: (1) was the farm properly valued (or did the family take too many discounts)? (2) is the buyer paying the seller a fair market rate of interest for the entire installment sale period? (interest free loans are gifts) (3) is the buyer a bona fide purchaser, or is the “sale” really just a gift wrapped in different paper?

Installment sales are an important technique for asset protection, estate planning, and business succession planning. But they have to be carefully structured and done right, or the result is a long, expensive, contentious, public mess. Installment sales are frequently used by serial entrepreneurs trying to transition a business; farmers, ranchers and landowners trying to pass the family farm on to the next generation, or business owners who are ready to retire from the day-to-day grind. When coupled with a Missouri inheritor’s trust (a beneficiary defective inheritor’s trust), grantor trust (an intentionally defective grantor trust), a FLP (family limited partnership), or a family LLC (family limited liability company), an installment sale can be an efficient, effective, and integral part of a complex estate plan. A good installment sale will freeze an asset’s value for tax purposes, get it off your balance sheet (for tax and asset protection purposes), and add value to the asset’s legacy for generations.

If my law firm, Johnson Law KC LLC, can serve you or your family’s legal needs, call (913-707-9220) or email me ( for 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 ( 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 ( for a convenient free consult.

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

Retirement for Small Business Owners

Bloomberg Businessweek has this fascinating article about some of the risks entrepreneurs and small business owners face when deciding to retire and sell their business. Unlike many of their employees, small business owners often have minimal diversification in their financial and investment portfolios (and instead have concentrated investments in their small business. If business slows down with bad economic conditions or other industry turmoil, the entrepreneur or small business owner risks losing her income and her concentrated investments in her business – a “double whammy” as the article puts it.

Don’t let your business or retirement be hit by the double whammy – plan now and plan well to be sure your future and your business’ future is secure. If we can help you or your family with your small business, estate planning, or business transition needs in Kansas or Missouri, call (913-707-9220) or email ( the Johnson Law KC LLC for a convenient appointment.

(c) 2012, Stephen M. Johnson

“It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas”: Give $10.24 Million to Your Family, Tax Free

The NYT has this interesting article profiling Jonathan Blattmachr and his wife, Betsy, and their estate planning strategy. Blattmachr is one of the nation’s most preeminent estate planning attorneys and a tax law expert than many attorneys, accountants, and others read for advice on navigating the complex labyrinth that is the IRS Code. He’s a classic example of the Type A personality who immerses himself in the materials of a particular topic and then declares with certainty (often to others’ bemusement) that he’s absolutely certain if you do X, Y will occur. Most attorneys, accountants, and other estate planning professionals are smart, analytical, and risk averse; Blattmachr is the proverbial smartest guy in the room who believes (and often convinces others) that he’s devised a solution so ingenious that despite the critics’ howls and groans, it’s flawless and incontrovertible. And he’s usually right: his work holds up well under IRS attack.

Estate planning attorneys across America have been encouraging affluent clients to max out their $5.12 million lifetime gift tax exemptions before Dec 31, 2012 (since the exemption falls back to $1 million on Jan 1, 2013) (pardon the cheesy title, but clients are well-advised to take advantage of these historically high exemptions). And because of a(n IRS approved) technique called “split gifting,” if you’re married, your $5.12 million individual exemption is actually $10.24 million. So far so good, right? Well, as the article mentions, there’s an old tax law ghoul called the reciprocal trust doctrine. And the reciprocal trust doctrine says if a husband and wife set up trusts with identical terms that make each other beneficiaries and trustees, the IRS can step in and pull the plug, and tell the couple that their clever estate planning is undone and the $10.24 million gift (designed to remove assets from their estates) is now back in their estates (and taxable at the 45%+ estate tax rate). The reciprocal trust doctrine prohibits the wink wink nod nod, quid pro quo, I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine estate planning strategy in irrevocable trusts. But there are ways around the reciprocal trust doctrine.

To avoid the reciprocal trust doctrine, attorneys vary the terms of the trusts. We (1) set them up at different times, (2) name different beneficiaries, (3) name different trustees, and otherwise vary the terms to make them materially different.

If you’re looking to set up trusts for your family and descendants, sell or transition your small business, or do other estate planning before 2013, time’s running out. Our firm, Johnson Law KC LLC, has experience advising individuals, families, small business owners, and entrepreneurs in all facets of estate planning – whether simple or complex – and we can handle your other legal needs as well. Give us a call (913-707-9220) or email ( if we can be of service to you.

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

Inheriting in Trust

Yahoo Finance and CNBC have this interesting story about Whitney Houston’s daughter. The famed pop star’s daughter is set to inherit a large fortune from her late mother’s estate, but some of the daughter’s advisers are concerned that the inheritance will make her a target for creditors. Inheriting in trust is better than inheriting money outright, as it protects your inheritance from creditors and divorcing spouses, among other unpleasant surprises in life. Inheriting in trust using a discretionary trust gets into an estate planning buzz word, asset protection. Asset protection is using an entity, usually a trust or LLC, to hold an asset and protect it from your creditors, divorcing spouses, spendthrift kids, or others who might squander your money. Asset protection and discretionary trusts are not allowed under Kansas law, 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 receiving more than $400,000 in inheritance, we recommend a beneficiary defective inheritor’s trust (BDIT or 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.

Our firm, Johnson Law KC LLC, is experienced counseling clients on all aspects of estate planning, asset protection, and inheritor’s trusts. If we can serve you or your family with these sensitive matters, please call (913-707-9220) or email us ( to schedule a convenient appointment.

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

Time to Sell?

Thinking of selling your business, transitioning it to the next generation, retiring, or moving onto the next great entrepreneurial idea? Bloomberg has this interesting article noting that many financial advisors are recommending that their wealthy clients sell their businesses by the end of 2012 to avoid tax hits in 2013. As we approach the expiration of the Bush tax cuts (on the estate, gift, generation-skipping, and capital gains taxes), the Obama tax cuts (on payroll taxes), and massive planned spending cuts to the federal budget on the one hand, and a potentially historically close election on the other hand, we’re entering a perfect storm. While no one can predict what will happen with taxes, the economy, or the election, if you’ve got a business and you’re looking to sell, now’s a good time to get out and enjoy the fruits of your labor. The article also recommends some good ideas on stock options, capital gains, and Roth IRAs.

Our firm, Johnson Law KC LLC, has the depth and breadth of legal and business expertise to advise you and your family on arranging a sale or other exit from your small business, as well as serving you and your family’s estate planning needs. If we can serve you, please call me (913-707-9220) or email me ( to schedule a convenient appointment.

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