An Interview With Estate Planning Attorney John Roth
THE END. No one wants to think about it. But the fact is, being human means living in a great mystery. We can never quite be sure how much time we have. For many, this means living life to the fullest. It also means thinking about what will happen when you go. What kind of legacy (or headache) do you want to leave for your loved ones? This is exactly the kind of uncomfortable question that John Roth, founder of Hawaii Trust and Estate Counsel , helps his clients answer. I sat down with John to learn more about his backstory, his firm, and the services they offer.
Law for Breakfast
John grew up on law. His dad, Randall Roth, was a long-time law professor at the UH Manoa Richardson School of Law and served as President of the Hawaii State Bar Association and other notable legal organizations like the Hawaii Justice Foundation. Conversations about his dad’s work, students, and broader legal issues in Hawaii were common around the kitchen table.
After undergraduate school, law felt like a natural path for John. He earned joint J.D. and M.B.A. degrees from the William S. Richardson School of Law and Shidler College of Business at the University of Hawaii–Manoa in 2007. Upon graduating, John knew he didn’t want to go to court as a lawyer. “Estate planning is not conflict-oriented,” says John. “It’s about helping people and educating people, giving them peace of mind.” After gaining experience working for two other law firms in Oahu, John founded Hawaii Trust and Estate Counsel in 2014 on the Big Island of Hawaii.
Just Ask John
I asked John what question he gets most from clients. “What’s the difference between a will and a trust…and do I need a trust?” says John. Questions like this one and others that might be keeping you up at night are conveniently answered on his blog, Just Ask John. The blog was inspired by a column he used to write for West Hawaii Today of the same name. Think Dear Abby, but for estate planning.
For example, in his blog post Why Use a Trust Rather Than a Will, John writes:
It is possible to use either a “will” or a “trust” to direct property into the right hands following your death.
While wills accomplish little more than that limited goal, trusts can also be used to avoid the probate process and perhaps accomplish other goals, such as protecting property in the event of a lawsuit, minimizing taxes, and reducing the chances of lawsuits. Such trusts must be funded with property while the person is still alive. That is why they are sometimes called living trusts.
The main reason many people use only a will is that living trusts can cost more to establish and perhaps add a degree of complexity.
“A trust is more complex to set up, but it can make it easier for someone to step into your shoes in the event of your incapacity or death,” says John. To determine whether a client should create a trust, John meets with them to assess their unique life situation. Some of the factors to be considered include what assets you have, your family circumstances, and what your goals and priorities are.
Peace – The Gift of Estate Planning
John’s light-hearted, upbeat personality makes him an easy person to talk to, even when it comes to the tough stuff. “I consider myself an educator,” says John. “I help people make educated decisions.” His ultimate goal through educating his clients is to decrease the potential for disharmony in families after a loved one passes.
Death and loss come with an emotional charge. People aren’t at their best when they are grieving, and everyone handles the process differently. Smart estate planning takes the pressure off. It can allow people to come together rather than have conflict.
About Hawaii Trust and Estate Counsel
John’s firm specializes in estate planning, offering services like wills, disposition of remains, revocable living trust, durable power of attorney, advanced healthcare directive, and HIPPA release form. In addition, they offer probate administration, trust administration, charitable giving, medicaid awareness and asset protection.
Their flagship office is located in Waimea on the Big Island of Hawaii. They have offices in Hilo and Kona, as well as in Wailuku on the island of Maui. They also make house calls on Oahu.
The firm’s team includes John Roth, associate attorney Willam “Kumu” Belcher, who is based in Hilo, and John’s dad Randall Roth, who is of counsel to the firm. Krystal Kauka is the firm’s administrative assistant. You can read the team’s full bios here. In 2016, John was recognized as one of Hawaii’s “40 Under 40”, by Pacific Business News for his work.
His Suites Story
John’s firm has been using Suite Possibilities conference room rental services since its founding in 2014. With their main office in Waimea, Suites offers them a convenient, professional space to meet with clients in the heart of Kailua-Kona. “What I love about Suite Possibilities is that we pay when we use it,” says John. “It’s an efficient way to keep our overhead as a small business low.” John usually comes to Kona once a week to meet with clients.
John is passionate about giving back to the community. He’s given educational presentations to organizations like Tutu’s House and Hawaii Community Federal Credit Union. Social distancing during COVID inspired him to take his educational presentations online in a webinar format. To stay in the loop on upcoming presentations and other helpful resources, sign up for his newsletter and follow @hawaiitrustlaw on social media. Check out his YouTube videos too!
The Painting Lawyer
When he’s not helping clients with estate planning, you can find John painting in his home studio. Check out his awesome paintings @johnrothart on Instagram. He lives with his husband David in Waimea.