Articles written by kenneth kirk


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  • Taxes complicate everything

    Kenneth Kirk, For Senior Voice|May 1, 2022

    Benjamin Franklin famously said that “nothing is certain but death and taxes”. Actually, he wrote it in French, but that’s not my point. As an estate planner, I deal with death all the time. I also have to be aware of tax issues, although that is less important than it used to be. In fact, for most of my clients, taxes don’t factor into their estate plans in any significant way. That’s not the way it was when I started out. When I came back from law school, the estate tax was a huge issue. An...

  • Exploding the biggest myth about wills

    Kenneth Kirk, For Senior Voice|Apr 1, 2022

    People believe a lot of things that aren’t actually true. Butter doesn’t help a burn. Your hair and fingernails don’t continue to grow after you die. Sarah Palin didn’t say she could see Russia from her house. In estate planning, the biggest myth is that having a will avoids probate. I don’t know how many times I have looked at the astonished face of someone in my office when I tell them there would have to be a probate case, even though they have a perfectly good will. Many people, having be...

  • It ain't a Personal Flotation Device

    Kenneth Kirk, For Senior Voice|Mar 1, 2022

    When I was a kid, I lived for a while in a town near Brazil. Not the big country down in South America, but the small town of Brazil, Indiana. What was strange about the place was that they pronounced it BRAY-zill. I thought that was really odd, until I got back home to Alaska and learned that most of the world pronounces Valdez and Cordova differently from what I grew up with. Yes, we do it differently in Alaska. It’s a snowmachine, not a snowmobile. We don’t refer to our highways by route num...

  • Nothing to lose but your estate plan

    Kenneth Kirk, For Senior Voice|Feb 1, 2022

    Today I want to talk about Marx. No, not the guy who wrote the Communist Manifesto. Not the comic with the big eyebrows either. Not even the ‘80’s rocker. I want to talk about a Marx you probably haven’t heard of. His name was Lawrence Marx, he lived in Southeast Alaska, and he died a few years back. And oh, did he leave a mess. Lawrence and his wife had a living trust. It had fairly typical terms; it was for their benefit while they were alive, and then it left everything to their two sons,...

  • Honey, I think we need a prenup

    Kenneth Kirk, For Senior Voice|Jan 1, 2022

    If you ain’t no punk Holler “we want prenup! We want prenup!” It’s something that you need to have ‘Cause when she leave your *** She gonna leave with half. - Kanye West This month’s column is about prenuptial agreements. If you read the news, you probably think that is something a billionaire uses to keep his fourth wife from getting half of his fortune, but it’s more than that. Bear with me. Most people get married without a prenup, and that’s fine. Not everyone needs one. There are laws...

  • Who's gonna drive you home?

    Kenneth Kirk, For Senior Voice|Dec 1, 2021

    Many of our Senior Voice readers will remember Ric Ocasek. He was the lead singer of a band called The Cars which had quite a few hits in the late 70s and early 80s. And if you were paying attention to pop culture in that time frame, you might also remember Paulina Porizkova, a supermodel who graced the cover of Sports Illustrated. Did you know they were married? This is their story. At least a little piece of it. Ric and Paulina met while filming the video for the song “Drive”. You might rem...

  • Putting into place the irrevocable

    Kenneth Kirk, For Senior Voice|Nov 1, 2021

    Lots of people get living trusts. For many folks, they’re a better way to avoid costs, disputes and delays when they shuffle off this mortal coil, as opposed to just having a will (or nothing at all) and going through probate. And most of these trusts are revocable. That means that if the person or couple who created the trust wants to change it later, or even cancel it completely, they can. That makes it a very flexible type of arrangement. Circumstances changed? Just change the trust. O...

  • Advance directive: Gotta do it, like it or not

    Kenneth Kirk, For Senior Voice|Oct 1, 2021

    I used to do a lot of litigation – trial lawyer work – and I still read the decisions the Alaska Supreme Court sends out each week. There was one this spring which had me shaking my head in amazement, and which sent me back down the memory trail, to a case I handled. The year was 2008. An Anchorage woman had choked on some food, suffered anoxia – a temporary loss of oxygen to the brain – and fell into a coma. A mere nine days later, the hospital decided that her chances of survival were nonexis...

  • Delayed certificates: Ask not for whom the bell tolls

    Kenneth Kirk, For Senior Voice|Sep 1, 2021

    A few months back, the State of Alaska got hacked pretty badly. Some evildoers broke into their system, and the State had to shut down all their systems for a while, and then bring them back up slowly. Among the systems which were shut down for quite a long time were those of Vital Statistics. If you are not familiar with Vital Statistics (nowadays officially called the Health Analytics and Vital Records Section, but that’s too long) it does a number of things which impact the public d...

  • Oops, she did it again - Britney and conservatorship

    Kenneth Kirk, For Senior Voice|Aug 1, 2021

    I usually start thinking about my next column at least a month ahead of time. But then sometimes events derail my plans, and I have to write about something else. The 2018 earthquake, the recent pandemic, and more than a few surprise elections, judicial decisions, or Congressional acts have caused me to re-rack everything and start over. This time, my plans were hijacked by Britney Spears. For the benefit of those of my readers who have been living in a cave for the last 20 years – because o...

  • Giving away the estate requires strategy, planning

    Kenneth Kirk, For Senior Voice|Jul 1, 2021

    One strategy you can use in estate planning is “lifetime gifts”. In other words, you sign things over to your heirs while you’re still alive, instead of making them wait until you’re gone. Due to some recent proposed legislation in Congress, this strategy is becoming more tempting. But be very careful here. There are three main reasons people are taking a hard look at gifting strategies. Let’s examine each one separately. Should I give away assets for estate tax purposes? For the vast majority...

  • What a mess Medicaid has become

    Kenneth Kirk, For Senior Voice|Jun 1, 2021

    In 33 years as a lawyer, I’ve had to deal with all kinds of government agencies. It comes with the territory. At various times I’ve wrestled with the IRS, child support enforcement, Social Security, the ABC board, various boards of professional licensing, and so many different state child protective agencies I can’t even count (that was when I did interstate adoptions). I’ve been involved with everything from the local Zoning Board of Examiners and Appeals, up to the federal Benefits Review...

  • Just what is an LLC and what does it do?

    Kenneth Kirk, For Senior Voice|May 1, 2021

    I’m an estate planning attorney, not a business attorney. Sure, some of my clients own businesses, but my focus is on how they transfer that business smoothly to their heirs on death, not about what kind of business entity they should use for other purposes. But once in a while I go a little bit beyond that, and talk to clients about LLCs. What is an LLC? It stands for “limited liability company”. Please note that it is not “limited liability corporation,” although people often refer to them t...

  • 'Do I really need a will?' Yes you do

    Kenneth Kirk, For Senior Voice|Apr 1, 2021

    Sometimes when you spend all day, every day dealing with the complications of a particular area of law, the simplest question can surprise you. People ask me, on a fairly regular basis, whether they really need a living trust, or a power of attorney, or a transfer-on-death deed, or some other specific item. But once in a while, people ask me if they actually need a will. The person who asks that question might think they don’t have enough money to need one. Perhaps they assume that if they d...

  • When estate planning gets Fast and Furious

    Kenneth Kirk, For Senior Voice|Mar 1, 2021

    If you like movies with car chases, then you know who Paul Walker was. During the past 20 years, the Fast & Furious movies — I think there were nine in all — were your visual feast for car races, chases and crashes. And Paul Walker, a good-looking and talented actor who was himself a car aficionado, was the star of the first seven of those films. Until he died at the age of 40. Walker died in a fiery car crash, in a Porsche being driven by a friend at a speed somewhere in excess of 80 miles an...

  • Death, taxes and stepping up to the plate

    Kenneth Kirk, For Senior Voice|Feb 1, 2021

    Deadlines are a funny thing. Two months ago, I needed to get my Senior Voice column in, shortly after the election. So on the morning after election day, I took a quick look at the results, and it appeared we would have divided control of the federal government, with the Democrats controlling the White House and House of Representatives, and the Republicans controlling the Senate. So I wrote, in my column, that there would probably be no major tax changes for at least the next two years. And the...

  • The power that springs into action

    Kenneth Kirk, For Senior Voice|Jan 1, 2021

    I try to avoid using Latin, since so few people understand it and I’m not in the business of confusing people. But as we lean toward the tape in this marathon run that 2020 has been, the words “annus horribilis” – horrible year – seem appropriate. Yes, I know, we have seen worse. 536 when a volcanic eruption ruined crops and caused massive starvation. 1665 when the Bubonic Plague swept through Europe. 1918 when people were dying from the Spanish Flu and trench warfare. 1996 when the Spice Gir...

  • The only constant is change – try to keep up

    Kenneth Kirk, For Senior Voice|Dec 1, 2020

    You have the advantage over me, Dear Reader. You know how the election turned out. Oh, I have a general idea. As I write this, it is November 4, the day after the election. At this point it looks like Biden is going to edge out Trump, the Senate will remain in Republican hands, and the Democrats will hang onto the House. I was waiting until today, when I thought I would know who won, to write my Senior Voice column. I expected that the Democrats would most likely control both houses of...

  • Tackling the $15,000 tax question

    Kenneth Kirk, For Senior Voice|Nov 1, 2020

    The most stubborn myths usually start with a kernel of truth, which is then taken out of context. For instance, this is true: “You can give up to $15,000 away each year, tax-free”. But from that true statement, a number of untrue conclusions have risen up. To start with, this is a true fact only if you’re looking at the federal estate and gift tax. Gifts of up to $15,000 each year don’t count. By the way, this is not $15,000 total from one person; it’s $15,000 from any one person to any one o...

  • To have and to hold (together) is not so easy in Alaska

    Kenneth Kirk, For Senior Voice|Oct 1, 2020

    Al Martinez was a longtime syndicated newspaper columnist. Toward the end of his career, he said that of all the controversial subjects he had written about (including a lot of articles about politics and social turmoil), the column that generated the most angry mail was when he suggested that it was perfectly okay to shave with cold water. I haven’t been writing for the Senior Voice for anywhere near the same length of time, but this is my fifth anniversary column (the Senior Voice staff n...

  • Will the estate tax be an unwelcome 'comebacker'?

    Kenneth Kirk, For Senior Voice|Sep 1, 2020

    Baseball fans love to nickname things. A home run can be a simple “homer” but it can also be a “tater,” a “dinger,” a “jack” or “going yard”. In fact, there are dozens of nicknames for the baseball fan’s favorite play. One thing nobody in baseball likes to see, however, is a “comebacker”. That’s when the ball is hit directly back at the pitcher. Because the pitcher is off-balance after throwing the ball, he may not have a chance to get his glove up and protect himself, so a comebacker ca...

  • Putting away childish notions

    Kenneth Kirk, For Senior Voice|Aug 1, 2020

    You know how nice it is when you get a toy you have been wanting? If you don’t remember that far back, think about how a child’s eyes light up when it sees a toy under the Christmas tree. Or if you like, a grown man’s reaction on his birthday when he unwraps that belt sander he has been asking for. Now imagine that you are given a toy you really want, but then told that you cannot play with it, you have to put it up on the shelf and just look at it. And you will know how I feel right now. (“Eno...

  • Estate planners and the consolation of philosophy

    Kenneth Kirk, For Senior Voice|Jul 1, 2020

    I can sum up the premise of today’s column in two words: philosophy matters. I’m not talking about Plato and Sartre and Descartes. I’m talking about the philosophy each of us brings to our work. Everybody has a philosophy for what they do. When you go to the doctor, she may have a philosophy of treating most infections aggressively with antibiotics, or she may have a philosophy of avoiding antibiotics unless they are absolutely necessary. If you use a tax accountant, he may tend toward aggre...

  • Advance Directives in the time of corona

    Kenneth Kirk, For Senior Voice|Jun 1, 2020

    Covid-19 is some scary stuff. It’s even more so if medical procedures make you nervous. By now we’ve all seen videos of people having long swabs stuck far up their noses, or a tube stuck down their throats, or lying in a hospital bed gasping for air through an oxygen mask. So if you don’t like thinking about medical traumas … tough noogies. Read this anyway. The prospect of a looming medical crisis has a lot of people thinking about what kind of treatment they would want, if their circums...

  • Never let a crisis go to waste

    Kenneth Kirk, For Senior Voice|May 1, 2020

    This is the second time in less than two years I have written this column in the wake of a major traumatic event. A few days after the 2018 earthquake, I used that event to remind people that incidents like that should shake them out of their complacency and cause them to get their affairs in order. At the time I wondered whether, when the Senior Voice came out a month later, people would have largely forgotten the event (as it turned out, they had not). This time, a few weeks into the...

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