Who – what age group – needs to be most concerned with estate planning? Ask Iowans this question, and I’ll bet most would conjure up the image of a retiree, who just spent 50+ years working hard to acquire significant assets.

But imagine, say, a young, married couple. They both have good jobs, live in a nice starter home, and have one or two toddlers.

This young couple tries to put away a little bit of money for savings, and in a college fund, and for retirement. Why should they worry about estate planning?

The truth is, this young couple should be just as concerned – arguably, even more concerned! – with estate planning as the retiree. Here are four reasons why:

  1. Choosing guardians for minor children. In an estate plan, you can choose the guardians of children. If you should become incapacitated, or even die, without any estate plan, an Iowa court would have no choice but to appoint a guardian for your children – but it may not be who you wanted or who you would have chosen. Better to make this choice with plenty of time to consider and make a careful, well-reasoned choice.
  1. Save on fees, court costs, and taxes. A good estate plan can save you and your estate money on fees, court costs, and taxes – perhaps even achieve substantial savings. These savings can be even more critically important for a smaller estate – more likely when you’re younger – than for larger estate, more likely as you grow older. Often, young folks actually have the greatest need to save money to pass along the most they possibly can to family and loved ones.
  1. Help favorite charities. Young people often are passionate about one or more causes. Having an estate plan means that you can put into place much needed help for your favorite charities.
  1. Life is uncertain. It may be awkward to talk about, but life isn’t guaranteed for any of us, young or old. There’s an old saying in estate planning circles that goes, “people don’t always die when they are supposed to.” Wives usually outlive their husbands, parents usually outlive their children, and so on, but not always. It is best to be prepared for anything/everything.

Who should be most concerned with estate planning? I actually think young people should be!

Do you agree? Why or why not? I’d be very interested in your thoughts.

Whatever your age, if you are interested in estate planning, a good place to start is my free Estate Planning Questionnaire. You can download it by simply clicking here.



What is a healthcare power of attorney? A healthcare power of attorney (“POA”) is a legal instrument that allows you to select the person that you want to make healthcare decisions for you if and when you become unable to make them for yourself. The person you pick is your agent/representative for purposes of healthcare decision-making.

What types of healthcare decisions can be covered by POA?

A POA can govern any kind of decision that is related to your health that you allow. You could, for example, limit your representative to certain types of decisions. Or, you could allow your representative to make any healthcare decision that might come up. This includes decisions to, say, give, withhold, or withdraw informed consent to any type of health care, including but not limited to, medical and surgical treatments. Other decisions which may be included are psychiatric treatment, nursing care, hospitalization, treatment in a nursing home, home health care, and organ donation.

How is a healthcare POA different from a living will?

A living will is a statement of decisions you made for yourself. It tells medical care providers, for example, that you do not want to be kept alive by machines, if there is no hope of getting better. A healthcare POA gives someone else the authority to make medical decisions for you if you are unable to make them for yourself. The healthcare POA allows you to pick the person that you trust to make to these kinds of decisions when you cannot make them yourself.

Do I still need a living will if I have a healthcare POA?

Yes. Any decisions that you make in your living will must be followed by the person you name as your agent in your healthcare POA.

When would I use a healthcare POA?

A healthcare POA is used when you become unable to make healthcare decisions for yourself. This can be so important, that your agent is able to make decisions – and access records, communicate with healthcare providers, and so on.

Do you have a healthcare POA? Why or why not?

Are you interested in securing your future? A good step is to download my helpful (and free!) Estate Planning Questionnaire, simply click here.




During March Madness, all this talk of brackets reminded me of tax brackets — and the importance of being tax-wise with your charitable giving. A relatively simple, but powerful, tax tool is the federal income tax charitable deduction.

Save $$$ and help your favorite charities even more

I say, it’s better to give and receive. You can both give and receive by using the federal income tax charitable deduction.

A gift to a qualified charitable organization may entitle you to a charitable contribution deduction against your income tax if you itemize deductions. Assuming the gifts are deductible, the actual cost of your gift is reduced by your tax savings.

Charitable deduction tax savings

The charitable deduction can result in significant tax savings. For example, assume a donor in the 33% tax bracket gives to her favorite qualified charitable organization a donation of $100. The charity still receives the full gift of $100. But, for the donor, the actual out-of-pocket cost of the gift is only $67, and the donor saves $33.

Let’s make these assumptions for all tax brackets and see the savings which result:

Bracket              Donation                        Savings                                Actual cost
10%                     $100                               $10                                         $90
15%                     $100                               $15                                         $85
25%                     $100                               $25                                         $75
28%                     $100                               $28                                         $72
33%                     $100                               $33                                         $67
35%                     $100                               $35                                         $65
39.6%                  $100                               $39.60                                   $60.40

This is a good deal for you and a good deal for your favorite causes. So why not consider using the charitable deduction?

Well, the charitable deduction requires you to be organized in your giving and maintain records. Generally speaking, the greater the deduction, the more detailed the records you are required to keep.

The basics of substantiation of your charitable deduction

Here’s a simple explanation of IRS record keeping rules for the charitable deduction:

Gifts of less than $250 per donee — you need a cancelled check or receipt

$250 or more per donee — you need a timely written acknowledgement from the donee

Total deductions for all property exceeds $500 — you need to file IRS Form 8283

Deductions exceeding $5,000 per item — you need a qualified appraisal completed by a qualified appraiser

Wait, you ask, is it really that simple? Let’s go through each of these categories and dig deeper.

Substantiation requirements for monetary gifts less than $250

A federal income tax deduction for a charitable contribution in the form of cash, check, or other monetary gift is not allowed unless the donor substantiates the deduction with a bank record or a written communication from the donee showing the name of the donee, the date of the contribution, and the amount of the contribution.

Meaning of “monetary gift”

For this purpose, the term “monetary gift” includes, of course, gifts of cash or by check. But monetary gift also includes gifts by use of:

  • credit card;
  • electronic fund transfer;
  • online payment service;
  • payroll deduction; or
  • transfer of a gift card redeemable for cash.

Meaning of “bank record”

Again, to claim the charitable deduction for any monetary gift, you need a bank record or written communication from the donee. The term “bank record” includes a statement from a financial institution, an electronic fund transfer receipt, a cancelled check, a scanned image of both sides of a cancelled check obtained from a bank website, or a credit card statement.

Meaning of “written communication”

The term “written communication” includes email. Presumably it also includes text messages. But, again, the written communication, whether paper or electronic, it must show the name of the donee, the date of the contribution, and the amount of the contribution.

Substantiation of gifts of $250 or more

For any contribution of either cash or property of $250 or more, a donor must receive contemporaneous written acknowledgment from the donee. Two keys here: “contemporaneous” and “written acknowledgement”; both have very specific meanings in this context.

Requirements of written acknowledgment

The written acknowledgment must include:

  1. The date of the gift and the charity’s name and location.
  2. Whether the gift was cash or a description of the noncash gift.
  3. A statement that no goods or services were provided by the organization in return for the contribution, if that was the case.
  4. A description and good faith estimate of the value of goods or services, if any, that an organization provided in return for the contribution.
  5. A statement that goods or services, if any, that an organization provided in return for the contribution consisted entirely of intangible religious benefits, if that was the case.


For a written acknowledgment to be considered contemporaneous with the contribution, a donor must receive the acknowledgment by the earlier of: the date on which the donor actually files his or her individual federal income tax return for the year of the contribution or the due date (including extensions) of the return.

Noncash gifts of more than $500

If you make a total of more than $500 worth of noncash gifts in a calendar year, you must file Form 8283, Noncash Charitable Contributions, with your income tax return.

You’ll only have to fill out Section A of Form 8283 if:

  • the gifts are worth less than $5,000, or
  • you’re giving publicly traded securities (even if they’re worth more than $5,000).

Otherwise, you’ll be required to fill out Section B of Form 8283 and all that entails.

Noncash gifts of more than $5,000

If you donate property worth more than $5,000 ($10,000 for stock in a closely held business), you’ll need to get an appraisal. The information goes in Section B of Form 8283, Noncash Charitable Contributions.

An appraisal is required whether you donate one big item or several similar items which have a total value of more than $5,000. For example, if you give away a hundred valuable old books, and their total value is more than $5,000, you’ll need an appraisal even though you might think you’re really making a lot of small gifts. The rule applies even if you give the items to different charities.

Requirements for “qualified appraisal” and “qualified appraiser”

Again, noncash gifts of more than $5,000 in value, with limited exceptions, require a qualified appraisal completed by a qualified appraiser. The terms “qualified appraisal” and “qualified appraiser” are very specific and have detailed definitions according to the IRS.

Qualified appraisal

A qualified appraisal is a document which is:

  1. made, signed, and dated by a qualified appraiser in accordance with generally accepted appraisal standards;
  2. timely;
  3. does not involve prohibited appraisal fees; and
  4. includes certain and specific information.

Let’s further examine each of these four requirements.

“Qualified appraiser”

Appraiser education and experience requirements

An appraiser is treated as having met the minimum education and experience requirements if she is licensed or certified for the type of property being appraised in the state in which the property is located. In Iowa, for a gift of real estate, this means certification by the Iowa Professional Licensing Bureau, Real Estate Appraisers.

Further requirements for a qualified appraiser include that she:

  1. regularly performs appraisals for compensation;
  2. demonstrates verifiable education and experience in valuing the type of property subject to the appraisal;
  3. understands she may be subject to penalties for aiding and abetting the understatement of tax; and
  4. not have been prohibited from practicing before the IRS at any time during three years preceding the appraisal.

Also, a qualified appraiser must be sufficiently independent. This means a qualified appraiser cannot be any of the following:

  1. the donor;
  2. the donee;
  3. the person from whom the donor acquired the property [with limited exceptions];
  4. any person employed by, or related to, any of the above; and/or
  5. an appraiser who is otherwise qualified, but who has some incentive to overstate the value of the property.

Timing of appraisal

The appraisal must be made not earlier than 60 days prior to the gift and not later than the date the return is due (with extensions).

Prohibited appraisal fees

The appraiser’s fee for a qualified appraisal cannot be based on a percentage of the value of the property, nor can the fee be based on the amount allowed as a charitable deduction.

Specific information required in appraisal

Specific information must be included in an appraisal, including:

  1. a description of the property;
  2. the physical condition of any tangible property;
  3. the date (or expected date) of the gift;
  4. any restrictions relating to the charity’s use or disposition of the property;
  5. the name, address, and taxpayer identification number of the qualified appraiser;
  6. the appraiser’s qualifications, including background, experience, education, certification, and any membership in professional appraisal associations;
  7. a statement that the appraisal was prepared for income tax purposes;
  8. the date (or dates) on which the property was valued;
  9. the appraised FMV on the date (or expected date) of contribution;
  10. the method of valuation used to determine FMV;
  11. the specific basis for the valuation, such as any specific comparable sales transaction; and
  12. an admission if the appraiser is acting as a partner in a partnership, an employee of any person, or an independent contractor engaged by a person, other than the donor, with such a person’s name, address, and taxpayer identification number.

Appraiser’s dated signature and declaration

Again, a qualified appraisal must be signed and dated by the appraiser.  Also, there must be a written declaration from the appraiser she is aware of the penalties for substantial or gross valuation

The charitable deduction can result in significant tax savings. But, substantiation rules, as you’ve seen, can be complicated. Also, all Iowans are unique, so be sure to contact the appropriate tax professional for personal advice and counsel.

Many other ways to help your favorite charities can be accomplished through estate planning. Indeed, proper estate planning is critically important, for many reasons. To get started, download my free Estate Planning Questionnaire, simply click here.

Estate Planning Charitable Giving Seminar

Monday, March 28, 2:00 – 3:30 p.m.
Iowa City Senior Center
28 S. Linn Street


– Why you need a will

– 7 most common estate planning mistakes

– 5 easy ways to super charge charitable giving

Please register by emailing gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com
or calling 319-356-5220

Thank you to sponsors:

Community Foundation of Johnson County

Elder Services, Inc.

Friends of the Animal Center Foundation

Friends of The Center

Gordon Fischer is an Iowa lawyer with more than 20 years experience.
The mission of his law firm is to promote and maximize charitable giving.

Reach out any time — Gordon’s email is
gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com and his cell phone is 515-371-6077.

Come one, come all! 🙂



Gordon Fischer Law Firm32

What the Yale Bulldogs know . . . .

The unexpected can happen.

Last time the Yale Bulldogs were in NCAA tournament, I wasn’t even born. And yet, just moments ago, Yale pulled off a stunning first-round upset.

Again, the unexpected can happen.

We don’t like to think about shocks in terms of life and death. But a mordant and bad joke among estate planners is that “people don’t always die when they’re supposed to.” Indeed, we all know people that passed away well before their time.

Nothing is promised to anyone. And if you should die without a will, it can cost your family and friends a lot of time, a lot of money, and lots of anxiety and even heartache.

There are at least three (and ½!) major reasons you need a will.

#1 Without a will, probate courts and the Iowa Legislature decide everything about your estate.

If you die without a will, you are leaving it up to the legislature/courts to decide who will receive your property. Or, even, who will get to raise your children.

#2 Without a will, you cannot choose a guardian for your children.

If you die without a will, the courts will choose guardians for your children. One of the most important aspects of a will is that it allows you to designate who will be the guardian for your children. This can ensure that your children are cared for by the person that you want, not who the court chooses for you.

#3 Without a will, the probate court will choose your estate’s executor.

If you die without a will, the probate court is forced to name an executor. The executor of your estate handles tasks like paying your creditors and distributing the rest of your assets to your heirs. Of course, if the probate court has to pick who will be your estate’s executor, there is always a possibility that you would not have approved of that person if you had been alive.

If you have a will, it will name an executor who will carry out all of your final wishes, pay your bills, and distribute your assets just as you wanted.

#3½ Without a will, you can’t give your favorite nonprofits gifts from your estate.

If you die without a will, your estate assets — your house, savings, and so on — will pass to your heirs under Iowa’s statute. If you have a will, you can include gifts to your favorite nonprofits and see that these nonprofits are helped for many years to come

Take control of your future. You can start by downloading my estate planning questionnaire, simply click here.