Halloween pumpkin

What makes a will valid? To begin, you are asking the entirely wrong question! Mmmmmmwwwwahahahahahaha!

You must ask a more specific question what makes a will valid in Iowa. After all, every state can and does have different laws for a will’s validity, as well as for probate, trusts, and so on.

Iowa law has several requirements (sometimes called formalities) which must be present for a will to be legal and binding. If you miss even one formality–yes, even one!–you run the risk of your will being declared “dead.” Forever dead and invalid…which sounds like a nightmare for your loved ones.

In Writing (Can Be Blood or Ink)

ink and paper

Iowa law requires a will to be in writing. That means any oral statement of the decedent doesn’t count. This is true even if the oral statement(s) relate(s) directly to naming people who should inherit specific property.

Even a statement recorded by audio or video cannot constitute a valid will. [Cue evil laugh.]

Testatrix or Treat?

The person making the will must sign it, or direct some other person to sign the will in his or her presence. Lawyers call the person who makes the will either a testator (male) or testatrix (female).

Two Witnesses to Tell the Tale

Two witnesses to the will signing are also required. There is almost a bit of a dance between the testator or testatrix and the two witnesses.

 

two people signing

The person making the will, in the presence of the two people acting as witnesses, must declare the document is his or her will and request the two people to sign the document as witnesses. The witnesses must sign in the presence of each other, and in the presence of the testator/testatrix.

Bearing Witness

There are also standards for being a qualified witness. A witness must be at least 16 years old and be mentally competent. A person who receives property under terms of the will may be a witness, but that person will have to forfeit any amount in excess of what s/he would receive if there were no will.

Are You Competent?

A will is valid only if the person making the will, the testator or testatrix, has sufficient competency at the time the will is made. In this situation, “competency” has two prongs: the testator must be of full age AND sound mind.

Full age simply means legal majority, which is age 18 (or 17 and married). Of course, many monsters are hundreds of years old!

Is your mind sound?

All I can imagine with the phrase “sound mind” is the mad scientist saying “brainssss, brainsss!” But, is “sound mind” a real thing? Yes!

glass brain

 

A testator must indeed be of sound mind. The testator/testatrix has sufficient mental capacity if s/he: (1) understands the nature of the instrument s/he is executing; (2) knows and understands the nature and extent of his or her property; (3) remembers the natural objects of his or her bounty; and (4) knows the distribution s/he wants to make. If s/he is unable to meet any one of these tests she cannot make a valid will. The mental capacity must exist at the actual time of the making of the will.

Did you say “natural objects of bounty?”

The natural objects of his or her bounty is a fancy legal phrase. Essentially this refers to a spouse and children, if any, or other close family members; the maker of the will should generally know and recognize his or her natural heirs.

Low Standards

This test of mental capacity is not a particularly high standard to meet. The Iowa Supreme Court declared:

“Ability to transact business, generally, is not essential to testamentary capacity.  Advanced age, failure of memory, senile dementia not shown to render the testatrix of insufficient mental capacity to understand the nature of the act, to recollect the extent of her property and the natural objects of her bounty and their claims upon her, and to comprehend the manner in which she wishes her property distributed, childishness, mental weakness, and old age are not, of themselves, sufficient to deprive her of testamentary capacity”

Walters v. Heaton, 271 N.W. 310, 313 (Iowa 1937).


Are you frightened to death of making a mistake with your will? Never fear! I can always help. Email me at gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com or call me on my cell at 515-371-6077. I’d be happy to offer you a one-hour free consultation.

Community property doors

DON’T DARE READ THIS ALONE!

Count Dracula needed a new estate plan. After all, the Count hadn’t updated his last Will in 1,400 years. After he got over eerily common estate planning excuses, he went to his Iowa estate planner. 

The Iowa estate planner dutifully gathered information about all of Count Dracula’s many assets. While discussing real estate holdings, however, the Iowa estate planner inexplicably failed to inquire as to whether Drac owned real estate in any other states.

[Blood curdling screams]

Yes, that’s right: the Iowa estate planner simply forgot to ask about other States, including community property states.

[Angry mob shouts in disbelief]

What are Community Property Laws?

Given our limited space I will only provide the most basic of oversimplifications. Simply put, states with community property follow a rule that all assets acquired during marriage are considered “community property.” While each community property state has its own unique and precise set of characterization rules, they all share the general rule that an asset acquired or given during marriage is presumed to be community property, until it is proven to be separate.

Bride and groom holding hands

Marital property in community property states are owned by both spouses equally (50/50). Marital property includes earnings, all property bought with those earnings, and all debts accrued during marriage. Community property begins as soon as the couple is married and ends when the couple physically separates with the intention of not continuing the marriage.

Spouses may not transfer, alter, or eliminate any whole piece of community property without the other spouse’s permission. A spouse can manage his or her own half the way he or she wishes, but the whole piece includes the other spouse’s one-half interest. In other words, a spouse cannot be alienated from his or her one half.

Death or Divorce in Community Property States

When one spouse passes away, his or her half of the community property passes to the surviving spouse. Their separate property can be devised to whomever they wish according to their will, or via intestacy statutes without a will. Many community property states offer an interest called “community property with the right of survivorship.” Under this doctrine, if a couple holds title or deed to a piece of property (usually a home), then upon a spouse’s death the title passes automatically to the surviving spouse and avoids probate court proceedings.

If the couple divorces, or obtains a legal separation, all of the community property is divided evenly (50/50). The separate property of each spouse is distributed to the spouse who owns it and is not divided according to the 50/50 rule (but, again, there is a presumption that all property is community property, not separate property).

Questioning woman

Sometimes, economic circumstances warrant awarding certain assets wholly to one spouse, but each spouse still ends up with 50 percent of all community property in terms of total economic value. This is most common regarding marital homes. Since it is not a practical idea to try to divide a house in half, often the court will award one spouse the house, while the other spouse receives other assets with value equal to half the value of the home.

The are exceptions to the equal division rule. The most common and well-known thanks to popular culture is a prenuptial agreement. Before the marriage, the couple may enter into such an agreement that lays out how the marital property shall be divided upon divorce.

Which States have Community Property Laws?

Eight states are considered to be the “traditional community property” states: Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, and Washington. Wisconsin is the functional equivalent of a community property state when it adopted the Uniform Marital Property Act in the 1980s. Alaska and Tennessee are elective community property states, meaning spouses may create community property by entering into a community property trust or agreement. 

What About All the Other States?

The other states, the clear majority of states, are called “common law property” states. “Common law” is a term often used in the law and can have a wide variety of meanings depending on the context.

In this case, “common law” is simply a term used to determine the ownership of property acquired during marriage. The common law system provides that property acquired by one member of a married couple is owned completely and solely by that person. Of course, if the title or deed to a piece of property is put in the names of both spouses, then that property would belong to both spouses. If both spouses’ names are on the title, each owns a one-half interest.

Death or Divorce in Common Law Property States

When one spouse passes away, his or her separate property is distributed according to his or her will, or according to intestacy laws without a will. The distribution of marital property depends on how the spouse’s share ownership—the type of ownership.

If spouses own property in “joint tenancy with the right of survivorship” or “tenancy by the entirety,” the property goes to the surviving spouse. This right is actually independent of what the deceased spouse’s will says. However, if the property was owned as “tenancy in common,” then the property can go to someone other than the surviving spouse, per the deceased spouse’s will. Of course, not all property has a title or deed. In such cases, generally, whoever paid for the property or received it as a gift owns it.

Man in street looking at house

If the couple divorces, or obtains a legal separation, the court will decide how the marital property will be divided. Of course, just as in community property states, the prenuptial agreement is an option. The couple can enter into agreement before marriage, providing how to divide marital property upon divorce.

Why Did the Iowa Estate Planner Forget to Inquire About Real Estate Located in Other States?

Some say evil men were born that way, while others say monsters learn evil. We can only guess. All we can know for sure is that the Iowa  Estate Planner didn’t ask about real estate in other states. And that was terrible.

You Said Iowa Wasn’t a Community Property State. So, Why Does It Even Matter?

For at least four reasons a lawyer in a common law state like Iowa needs to have a basic understanding of community property principles.

First, a client may move to a community property state. Or perhaps there’s a divorce, one party stays in Iowa, the other moves to Washington).

Second, a client may buy property in a community property state. Perhaps the client buys a vacation home in Texas.

Third, the client’s beneficiaries (adult children, for example) may move to a community property state. For example, your daughter marries an Arizonian and they both move to Phoenix.

In all three cases, the distinction between community property and common law states needs to be carefully explained to the client. The estate plan may well need revisions, or even just an extra document or two.

Standing over yellow line in road

Mob With Pitchforks Goes After Iowa Estate Planner

Ugly! Don’t let this happen to you. Seek an experienced estate planner, who knows the right questions to ask, and be sure to offer him or her as much information as you possibly can.

Got Questions or Concerns About Community Property States?

Do you have a vacation home in California? Did your son recently elope and the happy couple moved to New Mexico? It may be time to talk about community property and how it impacts YOUR estate plan. Always feel free to email me anytime at gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com. Or call my cell at 515-371-6077. I’d be happy to offer you a free one-hour consultation.

Hope Lodge Iowa City

From the outside looking in, with its lush landscaping and towering brick chimney, the Russell and Ann Gerdin American Cancer Society Hope Lodge in Iowa City gives an immediate impression that it’s a home. Which is what the facility does indeed become for the cancer patients receiving lifesaving treatments.

Hope Away from Home

Doors to the Hope Lodge opened in September 2008 following a $4 million donation from the Lodge’s namesakes, Russell and Ann Gerdin. (University of Iowa provided the land for the construction.) It was the first of its kind in Iowa and the 28th facility of its kind in the U.S. The Hope Lodge offers amazing service in the form of 28 private guest rooms free of cost to cancer patients (and their adult caregivers) undergoing active outpatient cancer treatment at area medical facilities: The Veterans Administration Medical Center, Mercy of Iowa City, or University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. The guest rooms each have a private bathroom and two beds, but the bedrooms are just the start when it comes to the other welcoming, inviting spaces.

Hope Lodge; Hope Sweet Hope

Quinn Hackert, assistant manager of the Hope Lodge, said that the facility has a Midwestern “lodge-y” feel to it and has plenty of community spaces to encourage people to get out their rooms and “really get to know each other.” Guests can enjoy a community dining area, sit in two screened-in porches, computer room, laundry, library, exercise room, and cook meals in two complete kitchens. Musical groups and weekly potluck dinners are another community-building opportunity to take advantage of.

The level of service the Hope Lodge is able to offer is truly amazing with a small staff of 12 (most are part-time employees), they were able to offer 13,355 nights of free lodging in 2016. Hackert said the Hope Lodge is typically full; if that’s the case and a patient needs/qualifies for accommodations, the American Cancer Society hotel partner program is utilized until a Hope Lodge room opens up. The hotel partner program means hotels in the area can offer a room for free or a significant discount. “The average length of stay is 22 days, however that’s a little skewed since our radiation patients often stay for six to eight weeks,” Hackert said.

American Cancer Society - Hope Lodge

In order to stay at the Hope Lodge patients must meet some eligibility requirements, such as the patient must live at least 40 miles away from the treatment center, have an end date to their current plan, and be cleared by a physician of infectious diseases, among others. According to the Hope Lodge’s website, prospective guests need their physician or a member of their cancer health care team to fill out a Hope Lodge referral form.

Another major benefit for patients staying at the Hope Lodge is the breadth of cancer-related services and programs including support groups for general cancer support, breast cancer, head and neck cancer, as well as a group specific for female patients.

Get Involved

American Cancer Society’s 2017 Hope Lodge “10th Anniversary Dancing for the Stars” Gala

Hackert reiterated that the Hope Lodge is supported and funded entirely through donated funds and times. The nonprofit’s highly anticipated annual fundraiser—10th Anniversary Dancing for the Stars—is coming up on November 11, 2017 at the Coralville Marriott Hotel & Conference Center. The black tie event features delicious food, enticing auction, and the main entertainment: local celebrities dancing in routines choreographed by professional dancers. Interested in attending? Tickets are $100/person and $1,000/10 person table. Hackert also indicated they’re still searching for additional sponsors.

Hope Lodge donations

On the general donations front, Hackert said, “We’re always in need of paper products like office paper, toilet paper, paper towels.” He added that those interested in donating time should contact Lynn Johnson at Lynn.Johnson@cancer.org or by phone at 319-248-5400. “We always need general volunteers and drivers that drive patients to the hospital in a Prius donated by Toyota,” Hackert said. “We have volunteers at guest services—the front desk and people can make and bring in meals for the guests.” Hackert added that the volunteers just need to go through a short orientation.


Note: GoFisch is happy to feature Iowa nonprofits and the great work they do in our community. A feature does not indicate any client relationship. If you’re interested in having your nonprofit featured, please don’t hesitate to contact Gordon.

Gordon works with nonprofits and the donors who support them in a number of different ways, including coordinating complex gifts. If you’re a donor or donee looking to maximize the benefits of your charitable gift, contact Gordon at any time by email, Gordon@gordonfisherlawfirm.com, or by phone at 515-371-6077.

hola

Gordon Fischer Law Firm is thrilled to announce Bridget Hoffman is joining the Firm as Client Relations Director. She will immeasurably strengthen our mission to promote and maximize charitable giving in Iowa.

An Iowa City native and University of Iowa alumna, Bridget is both well-known and well respected for her integrity, personability, and indefatigable work ethic on behalf of both donors and donees.

Bridget most recently served the UI Foundation for over a decade, raising more than $30 million for a variety of colleges, programs, and university priorities. Bridget previously worked at Orchard Place as a development director, and in the Office of Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack.

“My role will be multi-faceted,” Bridget said. “But, most importantly, I want to build strong relationships with professional advisors around the state. If you are an accountant, financial advisor, insurance agent, or lawyer, let’s work together to make certain your clients are well protected by a comprehensive estate plan; your clients’ favorite nonprofits are vibrant and healthy; and most importantly, your clients reach their philanthropic goals.”

Bridget can be reached at bridget@gordonfischerlawfirm.com.

sad man

It’s the saddest day of the year. You all know what I am talking about: the last day of National Estate Planning Awareness Week.

Here in Iowa, the weather is appropriate to everyone’s mood. It’s grey and drizzly and overcast and cold. Almost as if the Universe itself was acknowledging the melancholy of ending NEPAW 2017.

woman standing in road in raincoat

But we sure had fun, didn’t we? We took a deep dive into the history of estate planning itself. Estate planning, in some form or another, has been an important aspect of societies in the world for hundreds and hundreds of years. In almost every society folks wanted to pass along their assets to the people they care about and want to provide for.

We talked modern lit, too. Kazuo Ishiguro won the 2017 Nobel Prize for Literature and so we explored how his novel Never Let Me Go contained lessons for estate planners. After all, our lives are all too short. What should be our legacy?

We were reminded of the importance of Powers of Attorney. In particular, everyone should have a Power of Attorney for Health Care, a legal instrument that allows you to select the person that you want to make health care decisions for you, if and when you become unable to make such decisions for yourself.

Ultimate Estate Planning Checklist

The Gordon Fischer Law Firm Ultimate Estate Planning Checklist makes it easy to visualize your completion rate of the important documents and estate plan-related tasks. It’s an easy to read, handy dandy cheat sheet of items to accomplish to get you from zero to hero in estate planning world.

Yes, we sure had fun. [Sigh…looking out of rain streaked window, thinking]. While we’ll have to wait a whole year until the next National Estate Planning Awareness Week, let’s always choose to be aware of the importance of estate planning regardless of the day. With a quality estate plan crafted by an experienced lawyer, every single day of our lives can be like a day of National Estate Planning Awareness Week!

Here are three things you can do to keep the spirit of National Estate Planning Awareness Week alive regardless of the date on the calendar:

  1. If you don’t yet have an estate plan, get one. NOW. Filling out my Estate Plan Questionnaire is a great and easy way to start the process.
  2. Talk to your family, friends, colleagues, fellow churchgoers, and so on, about your own estate planning experiences. If it was easier and less expensive than you thought it might be, share that info. If having six basic documents, brought you great piece of mind, tell them so.
  3. Subscribe to my free e-newsletter, GoFisch, delivered to your inbox every month. It’s chock full of helpful information about Wills, Trusts, Powers of Attorney for Health Care, Powers of Attorney for Financial Matters, pet trusts, and really every aspect of estate planning.

I’d love to talk with you (even if you’re not as disappointed to see National Estate Planning Awareness Week pass as I am). Contact me by phone or email at any time.

senior citizen guardianship

Recently a friend sent me an article from The New Yorker, “How the Elderly Lose Their Rights.” (While a long read, it’s worthwhile.) The piece focused on the tragic case of a Nevada couple—Rudy and Rennie North—who fell victim to a court appointed guardian who failed (terribly) to put the senior victims’ best interests first and asserted the little known situation where “Guardians can sell the assets and control the lives of senior citizens without their consent—and reap a profit from it.” At first this situation is a bit confusing. How can a couple, with grown adult children, be assigned as wards of a state-appointed conservator/guardian who is then in charge of making health, financial, and social decisions for the individuals?

Given the current and growing population of elderly in the U.S. the issue of court-appointed guardianship it’s an important subject. According to the Census Bureau, “residents age 65 and over grew from 35.0 million in 2000, to 49.2 million in 2016, accounting for 12.4 percent and 15.2 percent of the total population, respectively.” And, between 2000 to 2016, 95.2 percent of all U.S. counties experienced increases in median age.

senior couple at table

What is a Guardian / Conservator?

To be able to protect yourself against such a situation, let’s establish what a guardian and/or conservator actually does and what are the causes for a conservator to be appointed. One person may be both the guardian and conservator and can be combined into a single court action. (Note: these definitions are applicable in the State of Iowa. In some states the words have different definitions and a “guardianship” in Iowa may be considered a “conservatorship” under the verbiage of a different state.)

Iowa Legal Aid offers a clear definition of the two terms:

“In a conservatorship:

  • The court appoints a person (the conservator) to control the property (or estate) of a ward.
  • A conservatorship deals with the person’s financial decisions.

In a guardianship:

  • The court appoints a person (the guardian) to control the person of the ward.
  • A guardianship deals with non-financial decisions such as where the ward lives and what type of medical care the ward gets.”

For simplicity’s sake, for the rest of the article we’ll just say guardian/guardianship, but know that could also include a conservator/conservatorship.

How does a Guardian get Appointed?

A guardian may be appointed if a court finds an individual incapacitated, which can be due to varied conditions like mental disorder, physical or mental disability, chronic abuse of drugs and/or alcohol, or physical illness. Basically if the court is convinced that a person lacks sufficient ability or understanding to communicate or make decisions in their best interest they could appoint a guardian for the continued supervision and care of the individual.

The process is such that a petition is filed in the prospective ward’s state with information regarding the proposed guardian, the guardian and ward’s relationship (if any), and other info on heirs. Any person deemed “competent” can be appointed as a guardian, so that could include an adult child/parent, spouse, or friend. It could also be a professional guardian entirely unrelated to the ward.

two senior citizen women

The legal standing for guardianship immigrated over to the U.S. colonies from England and is based on an English statute that’s survived for over 800 years. The state holds the power of parens patriae, “a duty to act as a parent for those considered too vulnerable to care for themselves.” Because this power is of the states and not federally regulated, there are disparate record keeping standards, sealed court records, and no databases of collective figures at the local, state, nor federal levels.

Potential Dangers of Guardianship

Guardianship in the U.S. straddles a fine line between protection and exploitation.

One of the major tenants of the concept of guardianship is “trust.” And, it’s true that there are great guardians who certainly work in the best interests of their charges. Most people assume the role of a guardian for good reason (like caring for a parent), but there are also substantiated cases where victims (largely senior citizens) were subjected to physical abuse, financial theft, and neglect. In a 2010 report, “Guardianships: Cases of Financial Exploitation, Neglect, and Abuse of Seniors,” the Government Accountability Office identified over 150 reported victims who had suffered a total of $5.4 million in stolen funds.

Guardianship has large potential for issues and consequences given the large quantities of people involved. Currently there over 1.5 million adults who live under the care of a guardian who is either a family member or unrelated professional. These guardians control an immense amount of assets to the tune of $273 billion. It’s also true that in the majority of states there are no qualifications to attain the status of guardian other than taking a course, having not declared bankruptcy recent, and not be convicted felon.

two seniors speaking on sidewalk

The American Bar Association published the statement that “an unknown number of adults languish under guardianship” even if they no longer have the need for someone to make decisions for them (or never did).

Another danger is that while guardianship could be terminated through a court hearing if it can be proved the need no longer exists, the ABA study also asserted the guardianship situation is typically permanent, leaving few ways out for the adults under care. Those who do try to fight against a court-appointed guardian often end up paying excessive amounts of money in attorney and court fees—some even going bankrupt in the process.

Additionally, the aging population of America places increased pressure on court resources which, in turn, can make it difficult for court appointmented guardians to have the optimal high level of oversight necessary. Thus, shady guardians can more easily slip through the cracks and continue to abuse the system and their wards’ assets.

How to Protect Against the Potential

It’s pretty safe to say that no one in their right mind would want a court-appointed guardian (particularly a stranger) to have control over your life. Especially in a way that they could legally:

  • Change your permanent residence to a more restrictive location.
  • Consent to withdraw life-sustain medical procedures.
  • Place restrictions on communications, visit, or interactions with another person.
  • Make decisions contrary to your wishes regarding general life in areas like recreational activities, clothing, and food choices.

As an example of the prospective consequences of these powers is how a guardian placing restrictions on whom their ward can interact with can result in isolating the ward from their family members. According to Elaine Renoire, a director of the National Association to Stop Guardian Abuse, a victims’ rights group, the top complaint she hears about guardians is how they can legally prohibit their wards from seeing or speaking to their loved ones.

senior citizen on bench

The following legal and estate planning tools are proactive measures you can take today to avoid the potential of being subject to court appointed guardianship.

Health Care Power of Attorney

Health care power of attorney is one of the six main documents all Iowans should have as a part of their estate plan. It allows you to choose a designated representative to make medical decisions on your behalf if you are to become incapacitated either temporarily (such as under anesthesia) or permanently. If you cannot express your medical treatment wishes clearly and coherently, your agent could then make such wishes be known on your behalf. The designated agent also retains the right to receive your medical record information that would otherwise be inaccessible as it is protected under HIPAA laws.

Financial Power of Attorney

Similar to the health care power of attorney, financial power of attorney is a legal document that designates someone to handle your financial decisions and take actions like pay bills, settle debts, and sell property on your behalf if you become incapacitated and unable to do this yourself.

Trust

The number of different types of trusts are practically limitless and a trust could be a valuable estate planning protection tool in some situations. A successor trustee could be named and the document could be used as a safeguard for financial protection.

woman walking down street with flowers

Proactivity is Key

By being proactive, you can be certain that someone you love and trust will be responsible with their guardianship powers and big/small life decisions, not the courts. Have these documents crafted by an experienced estate planner (not a DIY website) and keep them up-to-date as circumstances change. Luckily there are smart people in Iowa working toward policy change, such as the National Health Law and Policy (NHLP) Resource Center at the University of Iowa College of Law and their recent task force report citing 232 policy recommendations. But, the road toward substantial policy change is long and it’s best to have your own legal safeguards in place just in case.

Want to discuss guardianship further or get started on your powers of attorney documents? Contact me at any time.

Checklist with coffee and croissant

It’s National Estate Planning Awareness Week! In an effort to break down the barriers, myths, and excuses surrounding estate planning, I’ve created this handy dandy ultimate estate planning checklist. It runs down just about everything you need in terms of a comprehensive, quality estate plan including the six major documents, reviewing beneficiary designations, considering if a trust is applicable to you, and discussing your estate plan with your loved ones.

 

Ultimate Estate Planning Checklist

I would love to help you check these items off your list. If you want to get started, download my Estate Plan Questionnaire. Otherwise contact me to discuss your individual situation and what estate planning provisions make the most sense.

Let’s set everything straight about all the benefits and important aspects of a health care power of attorney.

What is a health care power of attorney?

A health care power of attorney (“POA”) is a legal instrument that allows you to select the person (called an “agent”) that you want to make health care decisions for you, if and when you become unable to make such decisions for yourself.

healthcare power of attorney

What types of decisions can be made by a health care POA?

A health care POA can govern any decision related to your health that you want to address. A health care POA may include decisions related to organ donation, hospitalization, treatment in a nursing home, home health care, psychiatric treatment, end-of-life (i.e. the use of life support), and more.

When would I use a health care POA?

A health care POA is used when you become unable to make health care decisions for yourself. Your agent will be able to make decisions for you based on the information you provided in your health care POA. Equally important, your agent will be access your medical records, communicate with your health care providers, and so on.

doctor stethoscope

What happens if I don’t have a health care POA?

If you don’t have a health care POA, and you should become disabled to the point where you are unable to make health care decisions for yourself, the hospital will do everything possible to save your life.

Your family, without guidance from you, will be faced with agonizing decisions. Your family members may not be able to agree on how to handle your medical care. Or, you might disagree with the decision your family ultimately makes.

If your family can’t agree on a course of action, they would have to go to an Iowa Court and have a conservator/guardian appointed for you. It may, or may not, be someone you would have chosen. Further, the conservator/guardian may make decisions you wouldn’t have made.

This is all very complicated, time consuming, and expensive.  A health care POA simplifies this process by giving you control over how decisions are made for you and allowing you to choose who will carry out your wishes. Best of all, it leaves your family with peace of mind.

Is there a “one-size-fits-all” POA for health care?

No! All Iowans are special and unique, and so are each individual’s issues and concerns. Consequently, this article is presented for informational purposes only, not as legal advice. Please consult your lawyer for personal advice.

Do I need other estate planning documents in addition to a health care POA?

Yes, definitely! (It’s even essential for college students.) There are six “must have” estate planning documents that make up a complete, comprehensive estate plan. (Plus some people may also need to consider a trust.)


Do you have a health care POA currently? And do you have a complete estate plan? Why or why not? I’d be most interested in any thoughts or comments. Email me anytime at gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com or call 515-371-6077.

scary jack-o-lantern

It’s the season for everything pumpkin, Hocus Pocus reruns, and “accidentally” eating all the trick-or-treat candy before the actual trick-or-treaters arrive. It’s the time when I’m reminded that the scariest notion of all is not Dracula, ghosts, or even the overpriced costumes, but rather the downright terrifying reality that nearly every six out of 10 Americans do not have estate planning documents in place. Despite the numerous benefits, advantages, and financial savings that comes with a proper estate plan, it’s all too common to push the process off to the equivalent of the dusty, cobwebby attic of your to-do list. Here are five scary excuses I’ve heard as to why people procrastinate creating an estate plan:

I’ll be dead, so I won’t be around to care.

Downright hair-raising!

A friend’s mother told them this when my friend brought up estate planning. The mother has a point…I guess. Yes, after she dies she won’t be able to “care” about where her assets go. However, most of us would like to have a set plan of where our hard-earned money and personal property will go and to whom. Why? Because we care while we’re living and like to think we’re taking care of the ones we love even after we’re gone. So, why wouldn’t she (even as an act of love) take a simple measure to save her loved ones money (and time) instead of dealing with the sluggish probate process that would occur if she were to die intestate (without a will)?

 

graveyard with gravestones

I don’t own enough assets to need an estate plan.

I hear this one all the time and it’s terrifying to think someone would sacrifice their right to pass along their estate (as small or as big as it may be) as they choose. The fact is that having a small bank account, minor children, owning a home (of any size), or even having a pet is enough to necessitate estate planning…if even just to be prepared. Of course the larger and more complex the estate, the more tools and documents may be needed, but that’s why you need to have an experienced estate planer to help determine the tools you need.

I don’t have time right now to do estate planning.

Unnerving and chilling. Sure, estate planning doesn’t sound like the most fun thing to deal with on top of everything else you have going on in your life. But, the time it takes to create an estate plan will be significantly less than the time it will cost your family if your estate goes through probate. Additionally, most (good) estate planning attorneys will work around YOUR schedule. They are willing to make house calls and conduct conversations essential to crafting the estate plan over the phone or email—whatever works best for YOU.

timer with sand in it

It’s too expensive to make an estate plan. 

Eerily wrong. It will almost certainly be more expensive for your family and loved ones if you die intestate (without a will). It will not only cost them monetarily, but also emotionally as the process can be shockingly slow, tedious, and can create unnecessary conflict. Part of living is loving, so show your family, friends, and favorite charities the love by taking the time to craft an estate plan.

I don’t even know where to start, so I’m not going to.

Alarmingly unnerving. Getting started on your estate plan is actually incredibly easy. Use my free (without obligation) Estate Plan Questionnaire. It’s an excellent tool for organizing all the essential information you (and your spouse, if applicable) and your estate planner need to have on hand in order to reach your estate planning goals.


Do any of these sound like you? Fear is for werewolves and zombies, not estate planning. Break the procrastination cycle and contact me via email or phone to discuss your situation.

Kazuo Ishiguro author

The Nobel Prize in Literature for 2017 was awarded to Kazuo Ishiguro, “who, in novels of great emotional force, has uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world.” Ishiguro has written several novels, and is best known for two: The Remains of the Day, and Never Let Me Go.

Never Let Me Go

Published in 2005, Never Let Me Go is a unique creation, a dystopian romantic drama set in a British boarding school; it’s part Kafka, part Austen, with a dashes of soft science fiction, and even slave narratives thrown in. Still, despite its uniqueness (or, because of it), the novel reveals four themes useful when planning your estate.

If you’ve read Never Let Me Go, you know it’s so hard to discuss this book without spoilers. Still, no spoilers below.

Lesson # 1. You need direct, unvarnished, and unbiased advice

Never Let Me Go is told in first person narrative by the character Kathy H.

Kathy H. is what your English lit professor called an “unreliable narrator.” There are reasons to question if what she relates is the entire truth. She’s limited even as to what she is truly and able to see and reflect upon.

But, don’t we all have our own blind spots? A good estate planning lawyer, along with professional expertise, offers a clear view and objectivity. By working with a lawyer, you’re going to bring that extra voice of reason to bear on current and future estate planning needs. Is it a good idea to leave your entire estate to your cat Tiger? Should you instead consider a pet trust? Is your 18-year-old kid truly mature enough to responsibly handle your million-dollar life insurance policy payout in one lump sum? A lawyer can give you direct, unvarnished, and unbiased advice.

Lesson # 2. YOU decide the terms of your own estate plan

Many who’ve read Never Let Me Go come to vastly different conclusions as to what the novel “means.” No one interpretation is “right,” nor are any interpretations “wrong.”

When you talk to your beneficiaries about estate planning—whether it’s loved ones, charities, or hopefully both—be aware they have their own point-of-view. That’s not meant as criticism. It’s just that reasonable folks can, and often do, differ on resolving issues.

It’s YOUR estate plan. Except for the most extreme cases, there is no right or wrong. Your estate plan is whatever you decide it is.

Never let me go quote

Lesson # 3. Read and reread (and reread again) very carefully

Never Let Me Go, at first glance, is a coming-of-age story, with twists. Upon rereading, many readers report they view the novel much differently—as a deep allegory; a meditation on memory and forgetting; the meaning of love and what it means to be loved; the definition of being human; and most especially, what should we each do with our own life, lives that are all too short.

Even though you’ve hired a professional estate planner, who’s put a lot of time and thought into drafting an estate plan perfect for your needs, you must read the estate planning so carefully. And reread it. Upon rereading(s) you might, say, change your mind on overall goals; think of a new issue to address; realize what sounded good during a conversation may not look as appealing when written down on paper; remember another nonprofit you want to aid, and so on.

Read, read carefully, and reread carefully.

Lesson #4. Leave a Legacy

Forgive me for posting this horrible hypothetical, but suppose you suddenly suffer from major organ failure. What will your legacy be? What do you want your legacy to be?

Estate planning is largely a part of leaving a lasting legacy. No matter what happens, through estate planning you ensure your legacy will continue.


Have you read Never Let Me Go? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the book as well as any questions you may have about your estate plan. If you don’t have an estate plan, now is a great time to get started. Fill out my Estate Plan Questionnaire or contact me by phone (515-371-6077) or email.