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.

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 (steve@johnsonlawkc.com) 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 (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.

 

British or American English?

British or American English? Tea or coffee? Whether you’re a fan of the Brits (as I am) or not, check out this interesting article  in Wealth Management about the differences between English and American per stripes. Many lawyers will recall this discussion from their law school days studying estates and trusts. “Per stirpes” is a Latin term that means “by the stocks” and refers to who inherits your estate if you die without a will (intestate). Most wills include the term “per stirpes” or “taking by rights of representation” in their definitions section (although those terms aren’t always used in the Kansas or Missouri probate code). This article is a good reminder to attorneys and clients alike: be sure your estate planning and other legal documents say what you want them to say. Using Latin or French or other “legalese” is dangerous if you’re not certain what the terms mean, and if your attorney can’t explain a document to you in plain English, (1) tell him or her to rewrite it or (2) hire an attorney who’s more knowledgeable.

Some lawyers use big words and convoluted sentences in documents because they rely on old forms (from the 1970s or 80s or even older). My law firm, Johnson Law KC LLC, has a personal service, client-centered approach – I personally craft and review every document for a client to make sure it’s readable and that my client understands what it says and does. You get the best of both worlds – big firm expertise with small firm personal attention. I often review and revise my firm’s documents based on the latest developments in the law, business, and taxes, with an eye towards improving readability and organization. I invite you to experience the difference. If I can serve your legal needs, call (913-707-9220) or email me (steve@johnsonlawkc.com) for a convenient, free consultation. On a personal note, thanks for being a part of this conversation for 100 posts and counting – I look forward to sharing many more posts and conversations.

(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 (steve@johnsonlawkc.com) for a free, convenient appointment.

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