Phone: (608) 829-2525
Excerpt from the Book Wills, Trusts and Probate—An Insider’s Guide to Estate Planning in Wisconsin (Horn and Johnsen-Tracy © 2020):
I've resided in Madison, Wisconsin most of my life. I was born and raised here. In 1986, I received my Bachelor’s degree at the University of Wisconsin—Madison. In 1991 I received my Juris Doctorate at the University of Wisconsin Law School. Yes, these are great schools—among the top 15 in the nation at that time, public or private. It’s easy to get attached to these schools and this community. But, I decided to stay here and practice law cheifly because I loved the people, the businesses, and the Midwestern style. As a young attorney, I did generalized practice work, as most associates do. I soon discovered though, I had a particular aptitude and interest in trusts, wills, probate and guardianship.
This made sense. Before I started my private practice in Madison, I was a judicial court commissioner. That’s a “magistrate” or “junior judge.” So, my earliest experiences as a lawyer are from the judicial bench. For two years I learned and implemented wide-ranging areas of law. I gained a deep understanding of everything from competency proceedings to 10-day emergency detentions; to and search & seizure warrants, bail, arraignments, and preliminary hearings; to civil litigation, collections, small-claims and divorce; to probate and adult guardianship. As you can imagine, I gathered valuable insight-- not just on the dry precepts of the law, but on how the law actually functions, especially in regard to estate planning and the elderly. I can’t emphasize enough what a remarkable learning experience it was to be a judicial commissioner!
In my personal life, too, there were many “life lessons.” I grew-up in a blue-collar family. I dug ditches, dry-walled and smashed-up my hand in a forklift accident. My first official job was at $3.50 per hour at a famous fast-food chain. I was 16 years old and thrilled! Later, I worked the docks in Alaska to earn money for law school while artfully dodging bears and brawlers. About 20 years ago, my brother died. He was 35 years old. I saw firsthand how difficult a probate administration can be. Even as an experienced lawyer, I went through over a year of tremendous stress and hardship in settling his estate. This is because he had absolutely no planning in place. At this writing, my father has severe dementia due to alzheimers. Having taught estate planning essentials to local branches of the alzheimer’s association, I was probably more prepared. Mostly, I am grateful that Dad has some planning place, so that we can focus on his well-being and care, rather than having to solve legal problems.
The thing to remember, though: these are not atypical family experiences! What reader has not seen death or illness or other hard times? I can guarantee you will encounter at least one of those three; and, modern life makes all if this increasingly convoluted. But, not if you have some planning in place! Okay, let’s visit academic and professional credentials for a moment. This is generally a bit awkward—I’m a mid-westerner after all. Our virtue is self-effacement. But, here it goes: In national peer rankings, I place at the top 1.5 percent of estate planning attorneys. On all client internet rankings, I currently have a five-star rating. Recently, I’ve received customer service and customer-favorite awards from AVVO, Martindale-Hubble, Ten Best-Rated and Three-Best-Rated, for example. I teach public estate-planning seminars at the University here in Madison, as well as the local technical colleges. Since 2015, my law partner and I have been competitively selected every year to lecture at the national convention for AAII (American Association of Individual Investors). I have many nationally published journal articles on estate planning ; and have been quoted in Wall Street e-periodicals, such as " The Street". I teach other attorneys locally and nationally. Here in Wisconsin, I teach continuing education programs for the Wisconsin State Bar. Nationally, I teach attorneys at the Weathcounsel group. Some of the cases I worked on here in Wisconsin were published by the Court of Appeals1 This is an honor reserved only for cases that are deemed significant in their effects on Wisconsin law. Graciously, Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Ann Walsh Bradley wrote: “John’s dedication shows. He meets the challenges with quality. He has keen insight into Developing legal issues."
But, what empowers my clients and their loved ones the most, is really the hard-scrabble “know how” that comes from decades of practice experience, as much as any of my academic Achievements or professional credentials and accolades. “Know-how is power.” This informs my professional life, inspires my advice & counsel, and guides my written work.
1. For example: Sinai Samaritan Medical Center, Inc. vs. Morgan McCabe, McCabe, 197 Wis. 2d 709 (Ct. App. 1995). Outcome: Affirmed trial court ruling that Morgan was responsible for Jean's medical bills.