flower-pink-mothers-day

To all the moms out there (including my own!), happy Mother’s Day! We all have our own unique relationships and therefore unique lists with an endless number of things we can and should thank our moms for. But the one thing we all have in common is there are not enough words and never the perfect gifts that fully encompass how thankful we are for all they’ve given us. Bath salts, candles, and lotions are nice. A massage or pedicure sounds even better! These gifts are kind, but they pale in comparison to all the tangible and intangible things your mother has given you over the years.

mom tattoo

That’s why I propose this year you give your mom a gift that’s unconventional, yet incredibly valuable…an estate plan! Why is this one of the greatest gifts for a loved one?

  • An estate plan leads to peace of mind. Your mom can feel good knowing if the unexpected happens, then the legal “stuff” surrounding your life is accounted for.
  • Estate planning means that you (the testator) get to make the decisions about who you want to have what stuff and when.
  • Estate planning isn’t just about death. Documents like financial and health care powers of attorney play an important role if your mom were to be incapacitated by a debilitating accident or illness. Everyone wants the ability to choose the people they want to make important decisions regarding their money and health instead of a court-appointed guardian or conservator.
  • Estate planning means your mom can plan for her estate to benefit the causes and organizations she cares for through charitable bequests.
  • Estate planning saves your mother’s family (like you!) time and money in attorney’s fees and court costs in the probate process.
  • By encouraging your mom to execute an estate plan, you are recognizing that you want her wishes to be heard on important matters like disposition of final remains and a living will. (It makes up for all the times you didn’t follow her directions as a kid!)
  • Estate plans can also be seen as a representation of your everlasting love for your mother, because estate plans never expire! They need to be reviewed regularly and updated when goals or big life-changing events happen, but a valid estate plan will last as long as your mom wants it to. What other Mother’s Day gifts can you say that about?

How do you gift someone an estate plan you ask? Well, you certainly can’t buy one at a store, but this is your chance to get creative.

  • Gift the gift of information. Even sharing the benefits and educating her on the main components of an estate plan is an amazing present.
  • Connect her with an estate planning attorney. Sometimes the hardest part of estate planning is simply getting started. When you work with an estate planning attorney (in lieu of something with a high potential for negative unintended consequences like a DIY will off the internet), they help guide and consult you through the process on top of writing the actual documents.
  • Give a storage container. This is a gift you could actually put a bow on! There are many different ways you can choose to store your estate plan, so take stock of what your mother has in terms of secure storage. Is there a locked file cabinet readily available or does she need a water-proof, fire-proof place to keep her original estate plan? The storage container could be a sort of representative for the estate plan that is to come.
  • Help her gather her information to fill out the Estate Plan Questionnaire. An Estate Plan Questionnaire helps you and your attorney collect all the important details related to your estate in one place.
  • Gift your assistance. Let your mom know that when she’s ready to discuss her planning decisions that you’ll be there to listen, and if necessary, bring your siblings (if any) and other family members to the table so that everyone is on the same page.

Already got your mom a gift? That’s cool. I’m sure she would love it in addition to the estate plan!

Questions, concerns, or otherwise from you or your mother? Contact me at any time via email or phone (515-371-6077).

woman with tattoos

A will is the bedrock of every estate plan. But, even though most people know they should have one, they don’t know what a will is, what goes in it, or how it works. In fact, only one in four adults in America (25%) has a will—that’s roughly the same number who have tattoos (23%). Look at it this way: you can take your tattoo to the grave, but your assets that stay above ground need to be administered properly.

Wills: the bottom line

A will is a legal document that provides for the orderly distribution of your personal property at death according to your wishes. It spells out your directions regarding other important matters such as the care of any minor children, the transition of business assets, and the naming of an executor who will oversee its directives are followed.

What if you DON’T have a will

Not having a will means the judicial system (the “court”) will end up administrating your estate through the lengthy process of probate in accordance with state intestate laws. There is no guarantee this process will result in dispersing your assets in the way you would have wanted. This process can cost your family not only a lot of time and money, but it can also lead to anxiety and heartache.

Will is NOT an estate plan, and vice versa

The will is the bedrock document of every estate plan, and it’s a little more complicated than other documents. With your will, you’ll be answering four basic but very important questions. I’ll list the questions, then discuss each separately.

a. Who do you want to have your stuff?

b. Who do you want to be in charge of carrying out your wishes as expressed in the will?

c. Who do you want to take care of your children? If you have minor children (i.e., children under age 18), you’ll want to designate a legal guardian(s) who will take care of your children until they are adults.

d. What charities do you want to benefit when you’re gone. A will is a great way to benefit your favorite nonprofits.

Who do you want to have your stuff?

A will provides orderly distribution of your property at death according to your wishes. Your property includes both tangible and intangible things. (An example of tangible items would be your coin collection. An example of an intangible asset would be stocks.)

A will provides the orderly distribution of your tangible and intangible property at death according to your wishes.

Tangible personal property is usually considered to be everything (other than land) that has physical substance and can be touched, held, and felt. Examples of tangible personal property include furniture, vehicles, baseball cards, jewelry, art, your Great-aunt Millie’s teaspoon collection, and pets. Intangible personal property doesn’t have a physical existence so it can’t be touched, but it nevertheless has value. Your intangible personal property might include bank accounts, stocks, bonds, insurance policies, and retirement benefit accounts.

Most people think “real estate” or “land” when they hear the word “property,” but “property” has a different meaning when it comes to estate planning.

There are generally considered two basic categories of property: real property and personal property. Real property is land and whatever is built on the land, attached to it, or natural to it such houses, barns, grain silos, tile drainage lines, and mineral rights. Personal property is essentially anything that is not real property. Two qualities of personal property to keep in mind: it is moveable and it can be hidden. Jewelry, cash, a pension, and antiques are kinds of personal property.

Example: The fenced acreage you own is real property because it is land that is immovable. But, the cattle on it are personal property because they can be moved—or hidden.

Who’s in charge?

Who do you want to be in charge of carrying out your wishes as expressed in the will?

An executor is a person who’s in charge of your estate plan. You entrust your executor with the authority to ensure that your wishes are carried out and that your affairs are in order.

Managing an estate plan is not an awful job, but it is an awful lot of responsibility. If you have never dealt with the execution of a will, you might not know how time-consuming, complicated, and demanding it can be. You may also be grieving at the deceased’s passing while trying to make sure all particulars are handled properly. It can be a stressful role, to say the least.

When picking an executor, you want to make sure it’s someone you trust, but also someone you know can handle the complexities and responsibilities of the job. We all have people in our lives whom we love, but recognize they’re not dependable when it comes to things like finances and managing paperwork. Choose someone in your life who is organized, detail-oriented, and can take on what is essentially the part-time job of administrating your estate.

If there’s no person in your life you believe trustworthy or capable enough to be your executor, or you don’t want to burden with the role, you have another option: appointing a corporate executor or trustee. You can find corporate executors and trustees at banks and private investment firms. They usually charge a fee based on the size of the estate. But corporate executors and trustees have the advantages of experience, a dedicated staff, and impartiality. The latter quality is particularly important if there are complicated family dynamics, such as blended families or bad blood.

Whether you choose someone you know or appoint a corporate executor or trustee, you need to sit down with that person for a formal discussion. For a friend or family member, make clear why you’ve assigned him or her the role. Avoid surprises: don’t keep the name of your executor a secret. If you chose one of your children to be your executor, make sure to tell the other(s) to avoid hurt feelings and strife after you’re gone.

Additionally, if you have a large or complicated estate, you would like to set up long-term trusts, or you worry about taxes, a corporate executor or trustee might be a good solution.

Who gets the kids?

For parents with minor children (those younger than 18 years old), it is critically important that you designate a guardian(s) who will be legally responsible for their education, health, and physical care until they reach adulthood. Like the executor’s, it is job that requires you choose someone you trust, but it encompasses so much more than the able administration of your estate—and it doesn’t end after the estate is closed.

In most cases, the surviving parent assumes guardianship of children without a Court intervening. However, there are still a number of factors to consider when choosing a guardian, including parenting style, financial situation, religious and personal values, age, and location. You need to have an in-depth conversation with any potential guardian or guardians to confirm everyone is comfortable with the arrangement and that he or she is prepared for this responsibility.

In Iowa, dying without establishing guardianship results in the Court choosing a child or children’s caregiver(s). It considers what is in the best interest of the child and makes a guess as to the person or people a parent would have wanted. The choice might be someone the deceased parent would never have selected—all the more reason to name a legal guardian in your will.

Tattoo estate planning on your to-do list

Go ahead get that tattoo and wear it proud all the way to the very end. But while you’re showing your ink off, also think about what you want to do with all of your assets. Talk to a qualified estate planner or get started with estate planning by filling out my free, no-obligation estate plan questionnaire. Any questions? Don’t hesitate to contact me at gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com or by phone 515-371-6077.

keep estate plan up-to-date

At first, estate planning can seem a bit much. It can be hard to know where to start and what all you need to know. But once you enlist an experienced attorney to act as a guide through the process and go through executing your plan (making it official), you can breath easy. The great news? Once you have your estate plan in place, it never expires. But, it’s not enough just to have an estate plan—you need to keep it current so it reflects changes in your life, as well as changes in applicable laws. Just to take two examples, an outdated estate plan can more easily be challenged in probate court. or create tensions among family members, than one that reflects your current situation.

Ensuring your estate plan is up-to-date is especially important when major changes occur in your life. Here are a few of them:

  • Your marital status changes through marriage or divorce.
  • You might not want a former spouse to inherit any of your assets, but it could happen if your estate plan is not properly revised.
  • You have kids (or more grandkids) as this could change your distribution model.
  • Make sure that your children are represented by a trustworthy guardian in case something happens to you. You will also want to add any additional children as beneficiaries.
  • Your financial situation significantly changes.
  • Your estate plan and its distributions will need to be revised to take into consideration any changes in your income. Did you inherit money or valuable assets? Is your career is suddenly flourishing? Maybe you experienced something that’s called “a liquidity event”—that is, you’re flush with cash from winning the lottery or selling a successful business. Don’t let your good fortune evaporate by ignoring your estate plan.
  • A beneficiary or legal representative dies or becomes unable to fulfill his or her duties.
    • Keep the list of the beneficiaries, guardians, trustees, executors, and agents named in your estate current.
  • You relocate to a different state (or country) or you acquire property in another state.
    • Laws governing wills and probate vary from state to state. So, if you buy property in another state and/or set-up a secondary residence, this needs to be reflected in your estate plan. Are you a snowbird who heads to your house in southern Texas every cold Iowa winter? Make sure the Lone State property is in your estate plan. It can be a huge hassle if your will doesn’t address all of your real estate, not to mention expensive.

I advise clients to review their estate plans every year. If there are any updates or questions it’s recommended that folks meet with their lawyer and other professional advisors. Some clients like to do this around the first of the year, while others prefer picking a date that’s easy to remember, like a birthday or anniversary. Any date will work— the important thing is to do it. Don’t be late, keep your estate plan up-to-date!

two women sitting on bench

One of the worst-case estate planning scenarios for any family is in-fighting which results from avoidance of estate planning conversations. Often this avoidance arises from not wanting to risk offending a relative.

I’ve known some couples who haven’t been able to agree on an important decision, such as who will take care of the children in the event of them both passing. Since they can’t reach an agreement they decide to bypass the conversation entirely and leave their children without a legal guardian. Which is, of course, the worst possible decision of all!

How you communicate your wishes to your family depends entirely on the family dynamic. One interesting concept I’ve heard of for family heirloom-decisions is to give your beneficiaries monopoly money and have them bid against each other for different items in an auction format. While that could make for a fun (albeit competitive) game night, it’s important that your loved one realize the importance and finality of an estate plan.

No matter how you determine decisions such as property dispersal, a professional estate planner can help you fully understand all the implications of your estate plan.

Tricky Family Situations

I’ve seen variations of this potentially tricky situation many times.

Three brothers grow up on a farm. Eventually, two of the brothers moved to the city while the third continued to run the farm’s operations. When their parents passed away, the third brother who had managed the farm, inherited the entire property while the brothers received none of the farm assets. As you can imagine, even if two of the brothers were not actively involved in the farm’s operations, if the parents died without discussing the estate arrangement with all of their children conflict could ensue between the siblings.

Then consider if the parents in this scenario divided out the farm assets between the brothers, whether or not they had a hand in helping manage the property. The brother who actually, actively manages the farm may feel slighted. Either way, such situations are made thorny when there’s no upfront, clear communication.

Bottom Line

two young people talking near beach

Estate planning can be an extremely difficult decision-making process. It is something that should be discussed with your loved ones, family members, and beneficiaries, especially when your choices may take them by surprise. Help everyone — yourself included — achieve peace of mind by seeking professional help to draft a sturdy estate plan. And then your estate planner can help you communicate your decisions to your loved ones.

Have questions? Need more information?

A great place to get started with your estate plan is with my free (no obligation) Estate Plan Questionnaire or feel free to reach out at any time.

doctor and patient

Back before COVID-19 made its way to Iowa I had an appointment at the University of Iowa Hospital. Don’t worry, it was nothing serious. Beyond the facility, technology, and the clearly talented health care providers, what impressed me most was the nurse asked if I had a health care power of attorney and/or living will and if I had them on file there. Of course, I got quite excited that the hospital is putting this important part of estate planning front and center as a part of the checkup where they take your vitals and such.

Now, with a pandemic front and center, this often overlooked step in estate planning is more salient than ever. In case you don’t have a helpful nurse to prompt you to take this important step, allow me to issue the reminder.

Once your estate plan is executed you should store it properly, as well as give a copy of certain documents to your doctor(s). Your doctor doesn’t need your entire estate plan on record, but they should have a copy of your health care power of attorney and health/medical-related documents, such as a living will. You should request these documents to be placed in your medical records.

What Do YOU Want?

A major benefit of this simple action is that if anything unexpected happens, your doctors and their teams will have your detailed wishes readily available. Giving a copy to your health care provider(s) is especially important in the case where you have been incapacitated (such as in a coma or under anesthesia) and want a specific person (like a spouse, adult child, or sibling) to be able to important decisions on your behalf. You want there to be no question as to whom you trust to make those decisions. You also want there to be no questions when it comes to personal choices regarding things like blood transfusions and being kept alive on machines.

Access to Medical Records

When the health care power of attorney goes into effect, your designated representative will also have access to your medical records (which would otherwise be undisclosed due to HIPAA rules). If your doctor has your power of attorney on file, there will be significantly less red tape to your representative accessing essential information.

Remember Revisions

If you make revisions to your estate plan documents, such as who your designated health care representative is or specifics included in your living will make sure you give the updated version to your doctor’s office. You don’t want them operating off of an old version if an emergency occurs.

Questions about estate planning? Think it may be time to update your health care power of attorney document? Don’t hesitate to contact me. Want to get started? A great place to start is with this free, no-obligation estate plan questionnaire.

doctor holding stethoscope

Take a break from whatever you’re doing for entertainment during these socially distant days to test your knowledge on how much you know about health care power of attorney—a particularly important estate planning document. Because I’ve never particularly enjoyed tests (who does?), I’ll give you a hint; all the answers can be found in this recent blog post:

To make things even easier, all of the statements below are either true or false.

1. An estate plan is a set of legal documents to prepare you (and your family and loved ones) for your death or disability.

2. There are six basic legal documents that nearly everyone should have as a part of an estate plan:

3. A health care 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 and when you become unable to make them for yourself.

4. 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.

5. 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.

6. The person you select as your health care agent should be someone in whom you have the utmost trust.

7. The agent you select will be able to access your medical records, communicate with your health care providers, and so on.

8. 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.

9. For people who feel strongly about not wanting to be kept alive with machines, this can be specifically covered in a document that can be part of your health care PoA, known as a living will.

10. If you don’t have a health care PoA and you should become incapacitated to the degree where you are unable to make health care decisions for yourself, your doctor(s) will ask your family and loved ones what to do. Ultimately, if your immediate family members cannot agree on a course of action, they would have to go to an Iowa Court to resolve the matter.

11. Going to court about a person’s medical care is very complicated, time-consuming, and expensive. This is especially true when compared with the convenience of simply putting a health care PoA in place should the need arise.

12. A health care PoA gives you control over how decisions are made for you, and the agent you choose will carry out your wishes.

13. Everyone can have unique issues and concerns when estate planning. 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.

14. Executing a health care PoA is a smart and responsible thing to do.

All of these statements are true. That wasn’t too bad! How did you do?

Questions about how and why to execute a health care power of attorney document? Don’t hesitate to contact me. Want to get started? A great place to start is with this free, no-obligation estate plan questionnaire.

Right now health and safety are top of mind for most of us due to the COVID-19 global pandemic. Because of the potential medical implications of the virus, it’s incredibly important to consider who you trust to make important health care decisions on your behalf if you are unable to do so. I know it’s difficult to think about, but knowing you have your wishes clearly, legally articulated can provide at least some peace of mind.

A health care power of attorney is one of the documents I advise all Iowans invest in because it’s a document that can save your loved ones so much uncertainty and confusion in the future (if the document needs to be evoked). Just like you may have prepared for social distancing by purchasing the basic necessities, a health care PoA, in my opinion, is a legal necessity.

Health Care PoA: One of Six “Must Have” Estate Plan Legal Documents

An estate plan is a set of legal documents to prepare you (and your family and loved ones) for your death or disability. There are six basic estate plan legal documents that nearly everyone should have:

1. Estate plan questionnaire
2. Last will and testament
3. Health care power of attorney (option for living will)
4. Financial power of attorney
5. Disposition of personal property
6. Disposition of Final Remains and Instructions

There are numerous other important estate planning tools, such as trusts, but these six documents are a common part of most everyone’s complete estate plan. And, the health care power of attorney document is certainly an important part of your overall estate plan.

Serious Incapacitation

A health care PoA becomes critically important when you’re seriously incapacitated and unable to make health care decisions for yourself. This new state of incapacitation, preventing you from making your own health care decisions, might be the result of serious illness, injury, lack of mental capacity, or some combination of all of these.

alarm clock with red cross on it

How a Health Care PoA Works

A health care 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 and 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 your health care 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.

Many Types of Health Care Decision

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.

brightly colored pills

What Happens Without a Health Care PoA?

If you don’t have a health care PoA and you should become disabled to the degree where you are unable to make health care decisions for yourself, your doctor(s) will ask your family and loved ones what to do.

You might disagree with the decision your family makes. Or, your family members may not be able to agree on how to handle your medical care.

Ultimately, if your immediate family members cannot 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.

Going to court to plead for a guardianship and conservatorship is all very complicated, time-consuming, and expensive. This is especially true when compared with the convenience of simply putting a health care PoA in place should the need arise. A health care PoA gives you control over how decisions are made for you, and the agent you choose will carry out your wishes.

No “One-Size-Fits-All” HealthCare PoA

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.

Do you have a Health Care Power of Attorney Yet?

We never know when or if an accident or illness will befall us and if it will render us incapacitated. Of course, we all hope that’s never a reality, but it’s better to be prepared in case the unexpected becomes existence.

Do you have further questions about a health care PoA for you or your family members? You can email me anytime at gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com or call me on my cell at 515-371-6077. I offer a free consultation to all, as well as a no-obligation, Estate Plan Questionnaire.

four faces covered by health masks

Consequences from COVID-19 including skyrocketing unemployment, mental health concerns, and general basic supply scarcity has meant an increased demand for services from nonprofits in a multitude of sectors. I’ve seen a number of successful efforts to help out local businesses, such as restaurants and shops, that are hurting from lack of foot traffic. These campaigns have focused on alternative revenue streams such as delivery deals and gift cards. The same concept can and should go be applied to your favorite nonprofit organizations as well.

Here are three ways you can help nonprofits while continuing to practice safe social distancing.

Donate cash under the CARES Act

The federal “Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security” (CARES) Act was recently passed and among other policy goals, aims to incentivize charitable giving. The CARES Act creates a new federal income tax charitable deduction for total charitable contributions of up to $300. The incentive applies to cash contributions made in 2020 and can be claimed on tax forms next year. This deduction is an “above-the-line” deduction. This means it’s a deduction that applies to all taxpayers, regardless if they elect to itemize.

For those taxpayers who do itemize, the law lifts the existing cap on annual contributions from 60 to 100 percent of adjusted gross income. For corporations, the law raises the annual contributions limit from 10 to 25 percent. Likewise, the cap on corporate food donations has increased from 15 to 25 percent.

Protect yourself from coronavirus

Photo by Obi Onyeador on Unsplash

Gift retirement benefit plans

If you have a retirement benefit plan, like an IRA or 401(k), you may gift the entire plan, or just a percentage, to your favorite charity or charities upon your death. Retirement plans can be an ideal asset donation to a nonprofit organization because of the tax burden the plans may carry if paid to non-charitable beneficiaries, such as family members.

This can be accomplished by fully completing a beneficiary designation form from the account holder and name the intended nonprofit organization(s) as a beneficiary of your qualified plan. The funds you designate to charitable organizations will be distributed directly to the organizations tax-free and will pass outside of your estate, Individuals who elect this type of charitable giving can continue to make withdrawals from retirement plans during their lifetime.

Write in bequests to your estate plan

Execute an estate plan, or update an existing one, to include bequests (gifts) to the nonprofit organizations you care about. There are multiple different types of bequests which means testators have flexibility with the structure of their estate plans. An experienced estate planner will be able to advise you on all of your options, but here is a brief overview.

Pecuniary bequest

A gift of a fixed or stated sum of money designated in a donor’s will or trust.

Demonstrative bequest

A gift that comes from an explicit source such as a particular bank account.

Percentage bequest

A percentage bequest devises a set percentage—for example 5 percent of the value of the estate. A percentage bequest may be the best format for charitable bequest since it lets the charity benefit from any estate growth during the donor’s lifetime.

Specific bequest

A gift of a designated or specific item (like real estate, a vehicle, or artwork) in the will or trust. The item will very likely be sold by the nonprofit and the proceeds would benefit that nonprofit.

Residuary bequest

A gift of all or a portion of the remainder of the donor’s assets after all other bequests have been made as well as debts and taxes paid.

Contingent bequest

A gift made on the condition of a certain event that might or might not happen. A contingent bequest is specific and fails if the condition is not made. An example of a charitable contingent bequest might be if a certain person predeceases you,

This is just a small list, as there are many ways to efficiently and effectively make charitable donations in a tax-wise manner that benefits both parties involved. Because each individual’s financial situation is unique it’s highly recommended to consult with the appropriate professional advisors.

I’d be happy to discuss any questions, concerns, or ideas you may have. Contact me via email at gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com or by phone at 515-371-6077.

Attorney reading The Iowa Lawyer COVID-19

The Iowa State Bar Association recently published a special edition of The Iowa Lawyer, dedicated to legal situations and considerations related to the global pandemic of COVID-19.

Gordon Fischer Law Firm wrote two pieces for this volume. The first article provides tips for supporting nonprofits providing critical aid. The second piece covers best practices for estate planning during coronavirus and how getting even the basic documents in place can provide some peace of mind. The hope is that these pieces provide useful information for all Iowans, not just attorneys. Scroll to pages 15–18 on this PDF version of the publication to start reading!

Iowa Lawyer COVID-19 Cover April 2020

Also in the Iowa State Bar Association’s publication are some interesting stories on: managing anxiety and stress during this chaotic time; how to stay cybersecure while working from home; and what companies’ legal obligations are around the coronavirus, among many other worthwhile reads.

If you’re interested in reading GFLF’s previously published articles in past editions, click here to scan through the archives. Also, the articles got you thinking that it may be time to start on or revise your estate plan, check out GFLF’s free, no-obligation Estate Planning Questionnaire.

april fool's day balloons

Hopefully, you didn’t get pranked too bad today or misled by a jokester on social media today. But, if you did, happy April Fool’s Day! We all love a good practical joke now and then, but the subject of estate planning is definitely not one to laugh at. If you already have an estate plan in place, that’s fantastic, but don’t let an old or inadequate estate plan make a fool out of your life, property, and legacy.

Review Your Estate Plan

Let this lighthearted April Fool’s day actually serve as a reminder to review your current documents and determine if you need to consider updated language, additional provisions, or a different strategy (like “upgrading” from a basic will to a trust). When revisiting your estate plan consider these common mistakes I see when reviewing folks’ less-than-optimal documents.

Living Trusts Missing Retirement Plan Lingo

Many people have a valid portion of the estate assets investing in retirements plans like IRAs and 401(k)s. The mistake comes when people designate their revocable living trust as the beneficiary of these plans, but the trust hasn’t been written or updated to grant the trustee the power to manage the accounts placed in the trust. Without vesting this power in the successor trustee (presuming the testator was the initial trustee and then passed away), the trustee can lack the ability to properly deal with the plan assets and unfavorable income tax consequences can occur.

Uncertain if your revocable living trust properly contains the requisite retirement plan lingo? Simply check with an experienced estate planning attorney and invest in amending.

Outdated Living Wills

Also known as an “advanced medical directive,” your living will should contain the appropriate Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (more commonly referred to as HIPAA) language. (HIPAA involves privacy and who can and cannot have access to your medical records.) If your living will was drafted pre-2001 (before Congress passed new rules governing the Act) it likely doesn’t contain the essential references to HIPPA. I’ve even seen some living wills written well after 2001 that didn’t have the proper provision. It may sound silly, but without this “magic” wording, your designated health care representative won’t have access to your medical records. Without this access, they may not be able to fulfill their duty in making the most informed decisions regarding your health care as possible. This mistake can be especially important if you’ve designated someone other than a close relative (such as a spouse or adult child) as your agent.

Underfunded Living Trusts

Another mistake I’ve seen is living revocable trusts that are not fully funded. Undoubtedly, without the guidance of a quality estate planner, the funding process can feel overwhelming. When people procrastinate or run into roadblocks when placing assets into their trust they can get frustrated and fail to complete the process. This is a misstep with negative consequences because without funding the trust, it’s best thought of as an empty container waiting for a testator’s assets to fill it up. Without it, if the person with the underfunded trust passes away, the estate will still need to pass through the sluggish and costly probate process. And, quite frankly, the investment in the trust will have been for little benefit or advantage.

Let your estate planner help you through this process. Also, consider if you have any new major assets that need to be assigned to the trust.

All jokes aside, every Iowan deserves a high quality and functional estate plan that meets their goals. Don’t be a fool and let more time go by before reviewing your plan! Please contact me with any questions; I offer a free one-hour consult.