There are so many unique and wonderful ways to recognize International Women’s Day, a day recognized around the world “celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women.” The day also stands for a call to action to accelerate gender parity.
One way to mark the occasion is by picking up a great read by a female author. The Book Club has picked a wide range of books ranging from nonfiction guides to inspire strategic communication to fictitious plots about estate plans. This month I’m adding Brave Not Perfect, by lawyer and political activist Reshma Saujani, to the digital bookshelf. I recommend this text to all taking on a challenge, but especially nonprofit leaders. Saujani is also the founder and CEO of the tech nonprofit, Girls Who Code. With this background of working to inspire and support women in the tech industry, she’s penned a gorgeous, influential book on daring to take a chance. Saujani takes her own experiences and encourages readers to seize the opportunity to fail and then build resilience off of those experiences. Her drive to build gender equality in tech is clear, as is her feminist message about casting off the expectation of perfection.
Nonprofit leaders, like Saujani, will undoubtedly appreciate the encouraging boost from this book to surpass all the hurdles that go into forming and building a mission-driven, successful entity.
What are your thoughts on Brave Not Perfect? I would love to hear them! Also, if the book inspires you to make certain you have a valid estate plan in place so that you can disperse your estate in accordance with your wishes, don’t hesitate to contact me! You can also get started on your estate plan with my free, no-obligation Estate Plan Questionnaire.
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It’s not hard to find books about estate planning, but if I’m being honest most are nonfiction guides and most are kind of dry and dull. Sure, they can act as a solid primer for what you may want to know about estate planning, but they do not make for cozy, wintery weekend reads. But it’s much easier, less complicated, and concise to work with an estate planning attorney who can tailor information to your needs.
After their eccentric (or reclusive, depending on how you see it) father commits suicide, three adult siblings are left to reckon with the father’s will that leaves his full estate to an unknown woman. Secrets unravel and the strings of grievances and grief intertwine as the siblings come apart fighting over their inheritance. Without disclosing any spoilers, this is more of a family drama than a legal one, but the bits and pieces of will contests serve as a warning sign that should hopefully inspire all readers to get their ducks in a row. Indeed, while largely set in Australia, this familial breakdown and conflict over competing legal documents could happen almost anywhere.
Having practiced as a barrister in Australia, Tesarsch knows a thing or two about how estate planning can leave a lasting legacy. . . and a contested will can cause immense familial conflict.
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With the cold weather upon us, there are few things more appealing than curling up with a warm beverage and an engaging book. I find the winter is a time to settle in and turn inward. It’s a season of consideration of how to better ourselves both personally and professionally.
This is why this month I’m adding Holding the Gavel: What Nonprofit Leaders Need to Knowby Nanette Fridman to the Gordon Fischer Book Club shelf. For anyone who currently or is thinking about serving on a nonprofit board, this book is like a guidebook on what to expect and how to be a successful, contributive member of the board. The book contains insider stories from people who have experience leading boards and valuable information on what good governance looks like.
Some of these sorts of books can get dreadfully boring or are too general to be applicable, but this book is both helpful and specific on topics ranging from how best to conduct due diligence to managing difficult board members.
When it comes to passing on and developing a board (and the organization it serves) and leaving it better than you found it, this roadmap of a nonfiction book is worth your time.
https://www.gordonfischerlawfirm.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Screen-Shot-2019-11-24-at-9.14.43-PM.png6831038Gordon Fischerhttps://www.gordonfischerlawfirm.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/GFLF-logo-300x141.pngGordon Fischer2019-11-24 21:17:402020-05-18 11:28:41Pick up the November Book Club Title: Holding the Gavel
This year marks the 70th iteration of recognizing May as Mental Health Awareness Month. Started in 1949 by Mental Health America, the month marks an opportunity for education, outreach and for us to have honest conversations about something that affects approximately 1 in 5 adults in a given year in the U.S. Furthermore, approximately 1 in 25 adults in the U.S. experiences a serious mental illness in a given year that substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities. That said, mental health is a big deal that impacts so many of us and also affects situations my practice focuses on, like how people structure their estate plans.
Wilson pulls the book from the years she devoted to researching anxiety and her own personal experience with it. From her own exploration into the topic she crafted a new outlook on life that actually involves embracing anxiety, not trying to suppress it or run from it. It’s not so much a memoir or self-help book, it’s a bit more like a guide from a friend who has been there before. Fortunately, the author doesn’t forego attractive rhetoric for practical tips. I also liked that she pulls in the knowledge from a range of voices from philosophers, to mental health experts, to famous people with anxiety.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this book and take your recommendations for future titles. Shoot me an email at email@example.com or give me a call at 515-371-6077.
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Often when I’m reading fiction I’ll find estate planning-related issues that cause conflicts, both big and small, for the characters. And, while the stories may be fictitious, the lessons they give us serve as valuable reminders of the importance of quality estate planning.
One such tale I recently revisited is the 1845 gothic novel, Wuthering Heights, in which author Emily Brontë swiftly weaves in ample estate planning issues with English family drama worthy of the Kardashians.
While many estate planning laws and practices have evolved and changed since the mid-1800s, many also have not. Indeed, the outcome of failing to create a valid, quality estate plan certainly has not.
All in the Family
Wuthering Heights twists and turns with love, revenge, birth, and death spanning some thirty-something years from the late 1700s to 1803. Among many other plot devices, conflict rests on the real property (named Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange) that a man named Heathcliff comes to in possession of through a number of different property rights and inheritance laws. In this way English common law has its own sort of starring role in the book, a character for which Bronte shows an impressive grasp of.
Of course, I don’t want to spoil the book because it’s a classic and you should enjoy the experience of exploring it yourself. So, without any spoilers there’s a lot of family conflict and one of the characters (Heathcliff) taking vengeful advantage of a number of unfair laws (especially those discriminating against women) of the time to gain property and power over his siblings. What were these unjust laws you ask? For one, married women couldn’t legally own property in England during this period. Additionally, inheritances generally passed to sons only. (If a father did not have sons and did not specifically name a daughter as a beneficiary, the father’s closest male relative would usually become the heir to the father’s estate.)
Yet, the irony of Heathcliff’s unyielding (and suspect) property acquisition is that in the end, he failed to make an estate plan and therefore failed to seize his opportunity to decide to whom and when he wants his things to pass. Apparently, he had thought about it, but likely did what so many of us do and made excuses and put it off until it was tragically too late. (Again, no spoilers, but Heathcliff’s ending is no fairytale.)
First Wuthering Heights Lesson: Stop the Procrastination
This brings us to our first important Wuthering Heights estate planning lesson: make an estate plan. Seriously, every adult needs an estate plan, as you never know when unexpected death or incapacitation may occur. For instance, you’ll want to have a health care power of attorney in place before a medical emergency occurs. And if/when it does, you’ll want your assets to go to the beneficiaries of your choosing. Having a valid estate plan in place also saves your loved ones ample time, energy, and money in court costs and lawyers’ fees.
Because Heathcliff lived in 19th century England, without a valid will in place at the time of his death and without a clear heir at law or living spouse, Heathcliff’s property was “escheat,” a common law doctrine that made sure property was not in limbo without a recognized owner. This meant the property passed to the “Crown” (basically whomever the feudal lord of the area was, or in modern day it would be as if the property was held by the state) and then eventually passed to Heathcliff’s next generation of family members. Now, Heathcliff, given his history with his family, may not have chosen for his unqualified nephew (and niece) to inherit his property. Heathcliff may have wanted to make charitable bequests of his property to a charitable organization he supported. But, the fact of the matter is he didn’t have a will, let alone an estate plan, so then inheritance laws and the judicial system made these personal decisions for him.
As an estate planning attorney, I can assure you this is not something that only happens in books. Without a valid will in place your estate will go through a process called intestate succession where the Iowa probate process and the courts will decide how your hard-earned property is to be distributed. This can take a long time, cost a great deal in fees and court costs, and your property may end up transferred to beneficiaries you never would have selected. Plus, without an estate plan, you cannot give upon your death to charity.
Second Wuthering Heights Lesson: Intestate Succession
Dying in Iowa without an estate plan is different than dying in 1800s England, but what does the intestate succession process actually look like?
It depends on the family situation. If married, the estate will pass to the surviving spouse. If there’s a surviving spouse and living children (whom are not children of the surviving spouse, but children of the deceased), then the estate will be split with half to the spouse and half divided amongst the living children (often referred to as “issue” in legal speak). If there is no spouse and no children, then the division process works its way down a list of surviving family members from parents, then to grandparents, then great-grandparents…and if no one from that list is alive than the estate would pass to the deceased spouse’s issue (such as stepchildren). Finally, if there are no family members living to inherit the estate, the intestate property will escheat (remember when we talked about that before) to the state of Iowa.
Assets that are inherited via beneficiary designations (such as 401ks, IRAs, annuities, checking accounts, and pensions) only become the property of the probate estate and pass through the intestate succession process if no beneficiary is named.
Note well that these highlighted provisions are just the basics. Other statutes come into play with the intestate process pertaining to various personal and financial situations.
The bottom line is: don’t be Heathcliff. Every adult (even young adults, and especially adults with minor children) needs to make an estate plan. Not only will this help your family avoid the worst-case scenario of litigation, it will also allow you the benefit of determining who you want inheriting your estate and when. You shouldn’t rely on the rules of intestate succession for dispersal of all the assets you acquired over the course of a life.
Lucky for you, it’s even easier to make an estate plan than it was back in the time of Wuthering Heights. Get started with my Estate Plan Questionnaire or contact me with questions about your individual situation.
Published in 2013, John Grisham’s Sycamore Row leads readers on a trip to the south in 1980’s Mississippi where a wealthy white man, Seth Hubbard, commits suicide and leaves his entire estate to his black housekeeper, Lettie Lang, instead of his two adult children, Herschel and Ramona. (I bring up the race of the characters because racism and prejudice are important themes in the novel’s setting and plot conflicts.) Sycamore Row is a sequel for fan-favorite character and fictional attorney, Jake Brigance, who was introduced to the world in Grisham’s most famous book, A Time to Kill.
Brigance is instructed by the decedent to defend his will against the inevitable controversy and litigation he anticipates will ensue. Over the course of the thriller, another will is unearthed which disposes the estate to Hubbard’s children. There are also serious questions about Hubbard’s purported testamentary capacity, as well as undue influence on the legal documents in question.
What are your thoughts on Sycamore Row? I would love to hear them! Also, if the book inspires you to make certain you have a valid estate plan in place so that you can disperse your estate in accordance with your wishes, don’t hesitate to contact me! You can also get started on your estate plan with my free, no-obligation Estate Plan Questionnaire.
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If you set a resolution to read more books this year, you’re in good company. Most of us could all read a little more. Luckily, January is, in my opinion, actually one of the best times to start a lasting reading habit. The days are short, snow blankets the ground, and nothing sounds better than staying in with a warm mug and a good read.
It’s not a new book (it was published in 2006), but it is a book that will be a standout on your business bookshelf. Of course, it’s “stats” speak for themselves: Made to Stick has been translated into 29 languages and topped all the lists. It’s an easy, engaging, funny read that doesn’t plod or self-aggrandize like the narratives in some business books. With plenty of real-world stories, the authors Dan and Chip Heath explain how to communicate and build on creative ideas that take projects, programs, and products to the next level. Undoubtedly, a book like this can help nonprofit leaders take the execution of their missions up to the next level.
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We’re taking a brief break from the details about the logistics of donation substantiation and the benefits of giving stocks to talk about one of my favorite subjects: books!
The people of Iceland have a lovely tradition called jólabókaflóð where books are exchanged with loved ones on Christmas Eve and then a cozy night is spent reading together. If you choose to start your own “Yule book flood” holiday custom, consider passing along one of the GoFisch Book Club selections we’ve chosen over the year. Which brings us to this month’s title: Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World.
The author, Anand Giridharadas, explores how rich and powerful donors utilize donations not just in attempt to change the world, but to shape policy. He presents an argument that the wealthiest of donors perpetually intend to do good, but never intend less harm. The author explores tough questions, which at times, are hard to reconcile with the current state of major giving in the world today. Giridharadas also offers ideas, with a call to action for everyday citizens, on how robust social change can, and should, be more egalitarian.
Not all of the ideas in Winners Take All will be popular with all (especially not the upper crust of the richest donors), but that’s what makes this book so intriguing. It’s not afraid to push the envelope on the conversation around how the public sector operates and delve into the realities of philanthrocapitalism.
What are your thoughts on Winners Take All? I’d love to hear how this inspires your charitable giving or influences your giving strategy. Want to discuss how you can make the most impact with your year-end donation? Don’t hesitate to drop me a line!
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Bust out those library cards or fire up the e-reader, we have your latest and greatest GoFisch Book Club read for November! We hope you enjoyed the October pick, but now we’re shifting gears to a fictional tale with some salient real-world estate planning tie-ins…plus it’s a National Book Award Finalist, so you know it’s good! Waiting for Eden, by Elliot Ackerman, features a wife who is perpetually present at the bedside of Eden, her husband, when he comes to after being in a coma for years. Eden was badly injured while serving in the marines in the Middle East. When he becomes conscious after his coma, the bulk of his body is marked with the aftermath of burns, and he’s unable to talk, hear, or see. He’s never met his daughter and Mary, the wife, has to grapple with the decision to extend Eden’s semblance of a life further or turn off the life support that keeps him immobilized. As the story unfolds, truth about the marriage come to life and we’re forced to face the question of what makes a life a life? What makes it worth living?
The primary themes are love, marriage, and tough health care choices when someone’s faculties are reduced to next to nothing can be heavy. But, they’re also super important consider. Ackerman created military fiction without it being a straight “military” storyline. (But, if you do like military-related reads, you get a dose of it from the perspective of a friend of the main couple who died in the same war accident Eden was injured in.)
The life/death situation presented in Waiting for Eden is rare, and hopefully you and no one you know ever has deal anything remotely similar. But, if you are in the position of making difficult health care decisions for a loved one, it’s better to know exactly what their choice and intent would have been had they not incapacitated. This is where the health care power of attorney comes in.
A health care power of attorney (PoA) is a legal document that allows you to select the person (your “agent”) that you want to make health care decisions on your behalf, if or when you become unable to make them for yourself.
Once your health care PoA goes into effect (typically most people elect to have this be the case only if an attending physician certifies you are unable to make medical decisions independently), your agent will then be able to make decisions for you based on the information you provided in your health care PoA. If there are no specifics in your health care PoA relating to a unique situation, your agent can and should make health care decisions for you based on your best interests. Obviously, the person you select as a your health care PoA agent should be someone in whom you have the utmost trust.
Equally important, your agent will be able to access your medical records, communicate with your health care providers, and so on.
Keep in mind your health care PoA isn’t just about end-of-life decisions; it can cover many types of medical situations and decisions. For instance, you may choose to address organ donation, hospitalization, treatment in a nursing home, home health care, psychiatric treatment, and other situations in your health care PoA.
For people who feel strongly about not wanting to be kept alive with machines, specifically covered in a document that can be thought of as a part of your health care PoA known as a living will.
All Iowans are special and unique and have special and unique issues and concerns. It’s completely up to YOU as to what’s contained in your health care PoA. You name the agent(s). You decide what medical decisions will be covered and how. It’s all up to you.
If Eden would have had such a document executed before he went to war with Mary named as his representative, the situation still would have been tragic, but the decision less disconcerting. But, the book probably would have been less of a captivating tale of friendship, love, and what it means to be human. If you can, however, save your loved ones confusion and uncertainty, plan ahead for the unexpected with a quality, clear health care power of attorney.
What are you thoughts on Waiting for Eden? Share your thoughts with other readers in the comments below or with GFLF on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter!
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Death is an enmeshed component of estate planning. This can be difficult to dwell on at times, but there’s also some comfort in knowing that death will reach us all. No one is exempt from this destiny, which is what makes life, so incredibly vibrant in comparison. What we can control is how our loved ones will be provided for. Really, at it’s core, making an estate plan is deciding who you want to inherit the property you own (everything from your home to your art to your car), when you want that to happen, and how after you pass from this world.
This is why this book resonates so strongly. Our perception of death is shaped by the customs of our respective cultures and how we honor our deceased. From this book, it’s evident that we can learn a great deal from how the Irish deal with death.
While I’m not Irish myself, as the son of German immigrants, I identified strongly with the author’s drive to connect with and participate in the culture and customs of his heritage. For instance, the book teaches us that a meitheal is an old Irish word for a gathering together for a communal task. An Irish wake can be considered a meitheal of sorts—a communing of mortal souls to aid the deceased in bridging the ephemeral space between life and death and aid.
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