Ashton Kutcher Has a Good Idea?

He has, if you think leaving nothing to your children when you die is a good idea.

“My kids are living a really privileged life, and they don’t even know it,” Ashton said during an appearance on Dax Shepard’s podcast, Armchair Expert. “And they’ll never know it, because this is the only one that they’ll know.”
“I’m not setting up a trust for them,” he continued. “We’ll end up giving our money away to charity and to various things.”

We’ll see. It’s not like he and his wife Mila Kunis are cutting off their children entirely.

Rather than just giving his kids money, Ashton Kutcher, who is also an investor, said he’s planning to make his children work for a living. He said he’d be a potential backer for their future businesses, but they’d have to pitch him just like everyone else does.


“If my kids want to start a business, and they have a good business plan, I’ll invest in it. But they’re not getting trusts,” the 40-year-old actor confirmed.

The proof will be in whether the two stars actually treat their kids’s pitches “just like everyone else.” Either way, Ashton’s idea is not a bad idea; it’s simply one among many ideas about how best to treat our children when we die and if we’re rich enough that what we do with our money matters to our children.

Business Trademarks: What’s Really in a Name?

This name is not available.

If you’re thinking of starting a business (or already have a business in the works), make sure that the name you use is not already taken.  Original names are essential for three reasons:  marketing power, clarity, and trademark infringement avoidance.  For example, if you’ve decided to open a coffee shop, it’s fairly easy to determine that the name “Starbucks” is notan option.  But, what about “Smith’s?”  And what happens if the “Smith’s” trademark is an auto insurance company in your town? 

What’s Really in a Name When it Comes to Business Trademarks?

Before attempting to trademark your business’s name, find out if the name is available on the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s website.  TESS, the Trademark Electronic Search System database, will indicate whether someone else has already claimed the name or symbol you want to use. 

  • While U.S. trademark protection is granted to the first company to use it in its operational geographic area (regardless of registration), a company that grabs the trademark first will generally have a stronger case in court.
  • In some situations, the similarities between names or symbols may be negligible.  That’s where an experienced business attorney with intellectual property experience can help. 

Often, there’s generally a way to accommodate both companies – especially when it comes to businesses with similar names, but dissimilar products (the “Smith’s” example above); those whose geographical locations may not conflict; and those whose names are too generic (for example, “The Clothing Store”).

Domain Extensions as Trademarks

In today’s marketplace, many businesses have both a physical location and an online presence.  The question then becomes whether to trademark the company name (for example, Amazon), the URL (www.amazon.com), or both.  It’s generally recommended that companies with an internet presence not register their web extensions (such as .com, .net, etc.) with their name unless planning to register the mark both with and without the web extension.  The reason is that other businesses registering the same name can do so by just adding a different (non-registered) extension and cause a great deal of confusion for customers.

A prime example is Craigslist.  The multi-purposed classified ad site is technically a “.org” site, but those who searched for craiglist.com or craiglist.net were often led astray.  The company now has trademarks for all, so typing in the latter extensions now brings you to the main .org site.

So You’re the Trustee of Your Parents’ Trust . . .

If you’re already or soon to be a trustee of a family trust you might want to read my new piece on Medium: Trustee Much? 5 Ways to Avoid Sibling on Sibling Mayhem.

Kanban Boards, Focus, and Productivity

One of my many weaknesses is maintaining focus. Often it seems squirrels are everywhere. And that’s frustrating because when I am focused, my head down, I move forward quickly and accomplish a lot.

So it was that I got excited when I heard John Grant describe so-called Kanban Boards on a Legal Talk Network podcast. (Warning, the podcast starts out slowly and Grant can be a bit jargony–so much so that I almost turned the podcast off–but it gets better and when he began talking about Kanban Boards, I was hooked.)

I rushed home, watched his video on the the subject and created my own  board. I’d show you my board, but I have client names on some of the Post-it Notes–did I mention that a Kanban Board is essentially a white board divided into columns and covered with Post-It Notes? Since I began using my board three weeks ago, I’ve been multiple times more focused and productive. Can’t recommend the tool highly enough.

By the way, Kanban Boards are not just for attorneys. They’ll improve anybody’s life.

Here’s the video:

 

What’s the Value of Water?

The answer to the question, “what’s the value of water?” is it depends. No surprise there, but to be clear, I’m not talking about the value of the water that runs out of your tap. I speaking of the value of water that is appurtenant to your farm or ranch land. What’s it worth in an of itself?

Well, Deborah Stephenson of DMS Natural Resources LLC, writing at Hall and Hall makes clear that the answer is in no way clear and depends on a number of things, including:

  1. Quantity – The quantity of water that a water right yields.

  2. Marketable Region – The feasible region in which the asset can be transferred to a new user.

  3. Alternative Water Supply Options – Availability of existing water supplies and future water development opportunities within the region.

  4. Water Quality – The quality of a water source can influence the suitability of a water right for a potential new use.

  5. Reliability – The amount of water that is regularly available to the water right holder compared to the claimed or stated volume on the water right. The amount of water available is determined based on a combination of water source yields, hydrological conditions, and the water right’s legal attributes –  mainly priority date.

  6. Seasonality – The period during which the water right holder can divert or withdraw water from the source.

  7. Highest and Best Use – The highest value use to which the water right can physically and legally be put to use.

Using those seven criterion, you can arrive at an appraised value of the water in question. But that only gets you so far, Stephenson says. No, you also have to look at water in the operational context, and that assessment is based on three considerations:

  1. Utilizing the water in the current agricultural operation.

  2. Utilizing the water on-site, but changing the use to a non-agricultural purpose.

  3. Decoupling the water and transferring it off the property.

You should be able to readily see that each of those factors will influence the value the water. I’m going to leave it at that. Stephenson covers the topic quite well, so click on the link above and continue–if you’re interested.

Value Water? Listen to The Water Values Podcast!

In an effort to keep abreast of water, water law, and water rights, I listen regularly to David T. McGimpsey, host of the Water Values Podcast. An attorney with Bigham Greenebaum Doll, David does water law, among other things. In his podcast, he interviews water experts and professionals from all walks of life–engineers, lawyers, hydrologists, water administrators, entrepreneurs, anybody and virtually everybody who does anything with water. I almost always come away from his podcast thinking that was time well spent.

My interest in water law stems from my estate planning and business practice. Water is property and proper estate and business planning ensures that property stays in the right hands over time.

Of course, I’m also interested in water because, as McGimpsey says at the end of every podcast, “Water is our most valuable resource, so please join me by going out into the word and acting like it.” Words to live by.

And You Thought the IRS was out to Get You

Good news from the land of taxes. The IRS audit rate of individuals (.07%) and businesses (.05%) fell to a 10+ year low due to budget cuts.  Even high income taxpayers can feel the love:

Audits declined even for the high-income households that have been an enforcement priority for the IRS. In 2016, the agency audited 5.83% of returns with income over $1 million, down from 9.55% in 2015 and marking the lowest audit rate for that income group since 2008.

 

To C or LLC? That’s Today’s Question

I just read an interesting post over at The Startup Law Blog, a post written six years ago. The writer lists “12 Reasons For A Startup Not To Be An LLC.” The key word in that post is “startup,” and key thing to understand is the author’s audience, largely captured in the following paragraph from the post:

For tech or growth companies planning to follow the traditional path of regular and ongoing equity grants to employees, multiple rounds of financing, and reinvestment of as much capital into the business as possible, with the goal of an ultimate sale to a big, maybe public, company in exchange for cash and/or stock, LLCs are typically not the way to go.

If that paragraph describes you, then maybe the C corporation should be the entity of choice for you.

As for the C corp, the author makes another important point. We’ve all heard that one reason–if not the major reason–to avoid the C corp is the possibility of double taxation. Well, maybe:

The bogeyman that you will hear about most frequently is the “double tax” bogeyman. You will be told—don’t form a C Corporation because you will be subject to a double tax.

What is meant by this is that if the C Corporation makes money, it will pay tax on that money. And if it pays dividends to its shareholders, they will pay tax on the dividends. This is true. And so if you anticipate your business being a cash cow, and immediately generating so much money that you will earn more than you can reasonably pay out in salary to the owner executives, then maybe an LLC is a good choice for you. But for most growth businesses, whose goal is to raise capital, reinvest capital, grow fast, grant equity incentives, and ultimately be acquired or go public, a C Corporation is the way to go.  For these businesses, the double tax bogeyman rarely appears, and most exits are structured as one layer of tax stock sales. (Emphasis supplied)

In the end, the real lesson, make that two lessons, from the blog post is that one size doesn’t fit all and that there are lots of questions to answer on the road to choosing an entity for your new business venture.

Will you know the answers? Better yet, do you know the questions?

Just Leave It Alone?

As many will recall, then candidate Trump promised to eliminate the estate tax. That was then. This is now–he’s the President. What will he actually do? Will he also eliminate the estate tax’s two siblings: the gift tax and the generation skipping tax? No one knows, though many people care, especially those who preach tax fairness.

Given that married couples currently have to be worth almost $11 million dollars before  the estate tax kicks in–it’s more complicated than that, but still–eliminating the estate tax is going to help only the very, very wealthy. And maybe that’s a bad (or a good) thing.

I’m here to argue for the advisor. Estate planning attorneys, life insurance and investment advisors, CPAs and financial planners. I’m betting that each and every one of them agree with the following:

Because the estate tax generates a meager 0.005 percent of annual tax collections, according to I.R.S. figures, it generates far more political debate than federal revenue. And among many tax planners, the calls aren’t so much for reform as for stability, or at least a period of benign neglect.

“Just leave it alone so we can plan,” Mr. Jenney said. “But every administration seems to want to put their own twist on the estate tax.”

Farm and Ranch Transition Conference–University of Wyoming College of Law

The Rural Law Center at the University of Wyoming College of Law is sponsoring the Farm and Ranch Transition Conference on March 3, 2017, a Friday, in Laramie. It’s free. The conference is open to the public. Those interested may attend either in person or via live streaming video. The  program sounds interesting.

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