Young couple holding hands

So, WHO needs an estate plan, anyway?

Who needs to be most concerned with estate planning? What age group? Ask Iowans this question, and I’ll bet most would conjure up the image of a retiree who just spent 50+ years working hard to acquire significant assets. Of course, it’s important for this demographic to have a quality estate plan, that’s fairly obvious.

But, imagine a young, married couple. They both have good jobs, live in a fine starter home, and have a baby.

 

crying newborn baby

This young couple tries to put away a little bit of money for savings, in a 529 college fund, and for retirement. Why should they worry about estate planning?

The truth is, this young couple should be just as concerned–arguably, even more concerned–with estate planning as the retiree.

Here are four reasons why:

  • Choosing guardians for minor children. In an estate plan, you can choose the guardians of minor children (e.g., children under age 18). If you should become incapacitated, or even die without any estate plan, an Iowa court would have no choice but to appoint a guardian for your children – but it may not be who you wanted or would have chosen. Better to have plenty of time to consider and make a careful, well-reasoned choice.
  • Save on fees, court costs, and taxes. A good estate plan can save you and your estate money on fees, court costs, and taxes. These savings can be even more critically important for a smaller estate (more likely when you’re younger), than for larger estate (more likely as you grow older). Often, young folks actually have the greatest need to save money to pass along the greatest amount they possibly can to family and loved ones.

 

  • Help favorite charities. Having an estate plan means that you can put into place immensely helpful donations for your favorite charities. Without an estate plan there’s no opportunity for you to help your favorite charities
  • Life is uncertain. It may be awkward to talk about, but life isn’t guaranteed for any of us, young or old. There’s an old saying in estate planning circles that goes, “People don’t always die when they are supposed to.” Wives usually outlive their husbands, parents usually outlive their children, and so on, but not always. It is best to be prepared for anything and everything.

 

Mom and daughter hugging

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

Whatever your age, if you are interested in estate planning (as everyone should want to check it off their list), a good place to start is my free Estate Planning Questionnaire. Questions? Want to discuss you personal situation? Contact me for a free consult!

Gordon Fischer Iowa City At Desk-Estate Plan

Estate planning.

Not exactly material for scintillating conversation. In fact, I’d bet most of us like to avoid this topic because it can be confusing, and requires lots of decision-making. And, well, yes, it forces one to think about one’s own mortality. Estate planning, after all, is a roadmap about what you want to happen after you move on from this life. While it may not be a fun topic, it is indeed a necessary one.

Estate plan: you almost surely need one

Almost everyone needs some kind of estate plan. If you’re young, healthy, unmarried, have no children, and have no significant or unusual assets…perhaps you could talk me into the idea that you don’t entirely need an estate plan. Even in such (rare) cases, I strongly recommend making sure your beneficiary designations are completed and up to date (for example, on your bank/credit union savings accounts and retirement benefit plan). But, if you are married, and/or have kids, and/or have significant or unusual assets, and/or own part or all of a business, you most definitely need an estate plan!

Baby in arms of dad

What IS an estate plan, anyway?

What do we talk about when we talk about estate planning? There are six documents that should be part of most everyone’s  estate plan. Plus, you should keep them updated and current. Also, don’t forget about assets with your beneficiary designations. For most Iowans, that’s good – six documents, keeping them current, and also remembering about those assets with beneficiary designations.

Sure, estate planning is complicated, but not that complicated. I’ll show you.

Six “must have” documents of your estate plan

There are six documents that should be part of most everyone’s estate plan:

  1. Estate planning questionnaire
  2. Will
  3. Power of attorney for health care
  4. Power of attorney for finance
  5. Disposition of personal property
  6. Disposition of final remains

We’ll go through each document briefly, so you have a sense of what each entails.

Estate Plan Questionnaire

Estate planning involves facing heavy questions, and depending on the amount of assets and beneficiaries you have, may take quite a bit of time and thought. I recommend clients (and even those who aren’t my clients) complete an estate plan questionnaire.

An estate plan questionnaire is an easy way to get all of your information in one place, and it should help you understand and prioritize estate planning goals. (I must also admit a questionnaire makes it easier for your attorney to build your estate plan!)

As with any project, it helps “to begin with the end in mind.” A questionnaire can help get you there.

Last Will and Testament

Now let’s get to the will. 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 three major questions:

  1. 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.)
  1. Who do you want to be in charge of carrying out your wishes as expressed in the will? The “executor” is the person who will be responsible for making sure the will is carried out as written.
  1. Who do you want to take care of your kids? If you have minor children (i.e., kids under age 18), you’ll want to designate a legal guardian(s) who will take care of your children until they are adults.

Power of Attorney for Health Care

Assorted pills

A power of attorney for health care designates someone to handle your health care decisions for you if you become unable to make those decisions for yourself. This essentially gives another person the power to make decisions on your behalf. For example, if you don’t want to be kept alive with machines, you can clearly outline that in your power of attorney for health care. But keep in mind that power of attorney for health care isn’t just about end-of-life decisions – it can cover any medical situation.

Power of Attorney for Finances

The power of attorney for financial matters is similar, only your designated agent has the power to make decisions and act on your behalf when it comes to your finances. This gives them the authority to pay bills, settle debts, sell property, or anything else that needs to be done if you become incapacitated and unable to do this yourself.

It might be obvious by now, but I’ll say it just in case: choosing an agent for a power of attorney requires that you think long and hard about who would be best suited for the job and who you trust.

Disposition of Personal Property

Now, let’s get to the disposition of the personal property. This is where you get specific about items you want particular people to have. If you’re leaving everything to one or two people, then you may not need to fill this out. But, if you know you want your niece Suzie to have a specific piece of jewelry, and your nephew Karl to have that bookshelf he loved, then you’d say so in this document.

Disposition of Final Remains

We come to the disposition of final remains. This document is where you get to tell your loved ones exactly how you want your body to be treated after you pass away. If you want a marching band and fireworks shooting your ashes into the sky (that’s a thing, by the way), then this is where you make it known. It can be as general as simply saying “I want to be cremated,” or it can be specific and include details of plots you’ve already purchased or arrangements you’ve already made.

Keep updated and current

OK, so you’ve gone to an estate planning lawyer, and these six “must have” estate planning documents have been drafted and signed. What else? You need to keep these documents updated and current.

If you undergo a major life event, you may well want to revisit with your estate planning lawyer, to see if this life event requires changing your estate planning documents.

What do I mean by a major life event? Some common such events would include:

  • The birth or adoption of a child or grandchild
  • Marriage or divorce
  • Illness or disability of your spouse
  • Purchasing a home or other large asset
  • Moving to another state
  • Large increases or decreases in the value of assets, such as investments
  • If you or your spouse receives a large inheritance or gift
  • If any family member, or other heir dies, becomes ill, or becomes disabled

This is just a short list of life events that should cause you to re consider your estate plan. There are many others.

Don’t forget about your beneficiary designations

There are six “must have” estate planning documents, plus you need to keep them current. Also, don’t forget about your beneficiary designations. For example, savings and checking accounts, life insurance, annuities, 401(k)s, pensions, and IRAs are all transferred via beneficiary designations. These beneficiary designations actually trump your will.

Regarding assets with beneficiary designations, you must make sure that designations are correctly filled out and supplied to appropriate institution

What other documents might you need resides these six “must have” estate planning documents?

For most Iowans, probably the vast majority, what I’ve outlined above is enough. There may be folks who have more that $5 million in assets, or who have complex assets (for example, more than one piece of real estate), or own part or all of a robust business, or otherwise have unusual situations. In such cases, a trust may be helpful. But that will be more “advanced” estate planning. What I’ve described above is an excellent start.

See? That wasn’t so bad!

Glasses on estate planning documents

There it is in a nutshell. This is what goes into an estate plan.

Whether it’s complicated or simple, it does require some thought and time. But, it’s worth the investment – a proper estate plan can save you and your estate costs and fees; help your family and friends; and provide you peace of mind.

Perhaps most importantly, through proper estate planning, you can help your favorite charities in ways large and small. Really, without estate planning, it’s not possible, at your death, to help nonprofits you care about.

Begin today

Why not start right now on your own plan for the future with my free estate plan questionnaire? It’s provided to you free, without any obligation. I would love to discuss your estate plan with you; reach out at any time by email, gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com, or cell phone, 515-371-6077.

tenancy by entirety

When you create an estate plan one of the key benefits is that you’re dictating how you want your executor to distribute your assets when you pass away. An estate planning-related question I’ve gotten over the years is: “What about the house? Doesn’t my spouse just get the house straight away?” It’s true, many people do co-own real property (like a house) with their spouse. But, different types of concurrent estates (meaning co-ownership by two or more people) afford different rights to said co-owners.

So, the short answer to that commonly asked question about the house is: it depends.

house under tree

Tenancy by Entirety

One type of co-ownership is called tenancy by entirety. This type exists only between spouses, and they hold the property (like a house) as one legal entity. If one spouse passes away, the surviving spouse takes the whole–becomes the sole owner–of the property.

This means the property would pass outside of probate, making for a simpler answer to the aforementioned “what about our house?” question. So, if something different was written in the deceased spouse’s will, this tenancy by entirety situation “wins” out. The same goes for if the spouse died intestate (without a will) and there’s no messing with which of the heirs-at-law gets what.

Another benefit is that the property is usually exempt from one spouse’s individual debts and liabilities. This means that a creditor couldn’t seize the property from the innocent spouse who is not legally responsible for the other spouse’s sole debts.

However, while this “special” concurrent estate come with the benefit of right of survivorship, there are certain limitations that come with it as well.

Spouses can choose to sever, mortgage, transfer, or sell the tenancy by the entirety, but neither can do so acting alone; both have to be in agreement.

It should also be noted that divorce terminates the tenancy by entirety.

Not in Iowa

Iowa does NOT recognize tenancy by entirety, but these 26 other states do. So, if you’re sharing this info with loved ones or if you co-own property in one of those states, you’ll want to speak with an experienced estate planner about how this type of concurrent estate fits in with your estate planning goals.

What about other types of concurrent estates?

There’s much more that can be said on this phrase and I’d be happy to consult with you personally.

If this post wasn’t exciting enough for you and you want to learn even more about concurrent estates, you’re in luck! We’ll talk about tenancy in common and joint tenancy in the next couple posts.

Want to make certain your assets, including big ones like land or a house, pass how and to whom you choose? Schedule a free consult at your convenience and get started on my free, no-obligation estate plan questionnaire.

Estate planning together

You need an estate plan. You need an estate plan.

If I haven’t yet fully convinced you that you need an estate plan, consider many other reputable sources. Following the brutal infighting over his estate, Prince would probably tell you to make an estate plan. So would these other celebrities who died without a planFox Business emphasizes the critical importance of an estate plan, adding, “[y]ou don’t have to be rich to plan for your death.” U.S. News & World Report notes both the financial and emotional pain inflicted on loved ones when folks fail to plan. Fidelity cautions that too often estate planning is a neglected, but important, part of overall financial planning. Forbes reminds us that, “Plain and simple, estate planning helps protect your family in the event that something bad happens to you.”

So, an estate plan is clearly critically important, but where to start? Keep reading for an easy five-step guide to get you where you need to go.

Estate Plan, Not Just a Will

Before I discuss the five easy steps, let’s get our terminology straight. Remember a will is NOT the same as an estate plan. While these two terms are (mistakenly) used interchangeably all the time, they are quite different.

An estate plan consists of several legal documents to prepare for your death or disability. Your will is just one of those documents, albeit a very important one. You need more than a will; you need an estate plan. With that settled, let’s discuss the five-step process of how I can craft your very own, individualized estate plan.

Honesty and Transparency

I work with my clients from a place of complete honesty and transparency. I’m upfront and open about my process of developing clients’ estate plans.

I’m always sure to inform potential clients of my five-step process:

  1. You download and fill out my free estate plan questionnaire.
  2. We meet for a free one-hour consultation and discuss your completed estate plan questionnaire.
  3. Based on the information you provided me, and our discussion, I draw up drafts of your estate planning documents.
  4. Once you are sure the estate planning documents are perfect, we sign the documents.
  5. About once a year we revisit your estate plan to ensure it’s aligned with your life changes.

That’s it. That’s really all there is to it.

estate planning in 5 steps

STEP ONE: Estate Plan Questionnaire

A great place for you to start is by filling out my free estate plan questionnaire. It’s completely free, with no obligation.

You can print off my estate plan questionnaire and either fill it out by hand, or type in your information digitally. If filling it out on a computer, tablet, or smartphone, remember to “save” often and regularly. The estate plan questionnaire collects essential information needed to craft a quality estate plan. This information includes contact information about your family and your professional advisors, assets, family, and specific property items.

Cost of an Estate Plan

Dollar

People thinking about completing an estate plan are often, quite understandably, concerned about its cost. No matter who you hire to draft or update your estate plan, make sure they’re completely up front with you about what it will cost. My own fees couldn’t be more obvious, as seen here from this rate sheet.

Looking at the different options, you may be confused as to which estate plan package is right for you. “Do you need a revocable living trust? Or would a simple will package be enough?” To which I say, relax. We’ll figure it out together.

There is no such thing as a “one-size-fits-all” estate plan. Estate plans – their terms, coverages, ins and outs – depend on a myriad of individual circumstances and indeed preferences.

This is why filling out my estate plan questionnaire is such a great first step. You can gather your own individual important and relevant information, all in one place, and think through decisions you’ll need to make when building your estate plan. Then, I can see from your responses what you might want and need. Once your estate plan questionnaire is complete, we’ll meet for a free one-hour consultation.

STEP TWO:  Free, One-Hour Consultation

Gordon Fischer meeting with client

In the free, one-hour consultation, we’ll talk about your estate plan questionnaire you completed. I usually meet clients in my office, but I’ve also met folks at coffee shops, restaurants, hospitals, and their houses. (I do make house calls!) I’ll listen carefully as you describe your intentions. I’ll answer all your questions. I’ll address all your concerns. Once we are both satisfied we understand each other, I’ll give you my recommendations. I’ll tell you in plain language what I think you need and why I think you need it. I’ll also tell you the exact cost. As you can see from my fee schedule above, I use a flat fee approach. So, you’ll get a 100% reliable figure.

STEP THREE: First Drafts of Estate Plan Documents

Glasses on estate planning documents

Once you and I agree about what documents and what terms in those documents should be included in your estate plan, I get to work. I draft a set of documents, unique to you and your needs. Once completed, I share this first draft with you.

How I share the draft with you depends entirely on your preference, which I ask about in the estate plan questionnaire. Most folks are good with email. Some clients don’t have email, or don’t want these sorts documents sent through email. In such cases I would either snail mail the documents, or have the client could pick them up at my office.

However you receive the documents, you’ll spend time reviewing the first draft of your estate plan. You’ll make changes, ask questions, and raise concerns. This is all on your time frame. You take as much, or as little time, as you feel you need. I will move at the speed you want. We can go through one draft or we can go through twenty. The important thing is we won’t continue to the next step until you are completely satisfied with your estate plan in all aspects. Only when you are completely, totally, and 100 percent satisfied do we execute the documents.

STEP FOUR: Executing Your Estate Plan

We’ll set up an appointment to meet (again, usually my office, but could be another place you choose). We’ll need two witnesses. I’m a notary. We’ll go through and properly sign and notarize all the documents.

Only Then, My Bill

I talked about the cost of an estate plan, but I haven’t yet mentioned a bill. That’s because I don’t present you with a bill until the end of the process. Only once you have a fully executed (i.e., signed, notarized, and witnessed) estate plan, then and only then do I provide you my bill for legal services. The bill total will exactly match the figure I provided you earlier, during our free consultation. If it doesn’t match, frankly, you could simply not pay the bill. (I might keep the estate planning documents, though). Some clients write a check right on the spot. Other clients want to pay along with all their other bills, so they remit payment later. Yes, you may take the estate plan documents without paying—I trust you’ll pay me.

Yes, YOU Get the Original Documents

Some lawyers keep the original, signed documents. I don’t. I give you the original documents to keep safely. I can make copies (electronic, paper, or both) for you if you’d like. I do keep both a paper and electronic copy of the signed version of your estate plan. Copies of estate plans are great, just in case, but it’s the original that counts.

Short Client Satisfaction Survey

I may send you an online client satisfaction survey via email. The survey is super short, optional, confidential, and anonymous. The questions center on your satisfaction with me, the process, and the product. The survey allows you to voice your opinion on working with me and helps me improve and maintain a high-quality level of service.

STEP FIVE: Annual Follow-Up

The only constant in life? Change. As your life inevitably changes, your estate plan must adapt.

How often should you revisit your estate plan? I like to check in with my clients on an annual basis.

Some clients like revisiting their estate plan at the start of the year. Others prefer to review on a significant date, like a birthday or wedding anniversary. Some pick a random date we agree upon. The “default” date would be the annual anniversary of executing the estate planning documents.

Woman holding Calendar

At our decided-upon date, I’ll just do a quick check-in; typically, this is just a quick series of short emails. Only if there’s been a major life event, death of an heir or fiduciary; drastic change in health; significant change in assets; or the like, will we need to have a longer discussion. Of course, you don’t have to change anything you don’t want. I’ll simply provide advice.

You know you need an estate plan, and as you can see above, this five-step process isn’t so bad! So, cast those excuses aside and get started on checking off step one of your checklist.

If you have any questions or concerns about estate planning in your situation, please contact me any time. I can always be reached via email, gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com, or my cell phone, 515-371-6077.

give thanks table with autumn leaves

Thanksgiving weekend is chock full of traditions for families from parade watching and football playing to pie eating and Black Friday shopping. One less obvious activity you should add to the weekend roster is a discussion on estate planning. America’s second favorite holiday, where family and friends come together from near and far, to eat good food and spend quality time together is a prime opportunity to make sure your loved ones have a plan for the future in the case of unexpected death or incapacitation.

thanksgiving table

Now, I don’t recommend questioning your uncle if he has a living will over the turkey table. But, after the food coma wears off gather your loved ones around in a comfortable spot and strike up a conversation about how estate planning is important for everyone. That includes your brother who has young kids, your mom who donates regularly to the local food bank, and even your cousins who are obsessed with their dogs…there’s a place in estate planning for all of them. Here’s a couple tips to make the discussion a success as great as pumpkin pie.

Non-Disclosure is Best

No one should be pressured or needs to disclose whom they have named as heirs! That could be awkward depending on who’s in the room. But, you should pass along the great advice that estate plans should be reviewed at least annually and always after a major life event like a birth, death, marriage, divorce, or moving across state lines.

Explain Why Estate Planning is Essential

The benefits of estate planning are numerous and estate planning can be tailored to meet each individual’s unique needs and goals. But, you don’t have to get too into the weeds. Leave that part to the estate planner who’s job it is!

If anyone needs convincing to get started on their estate plan ASAP, simply explain that estate planning is an opportunity to take action as opposed to passing the burden to family members to figure out what to do with their stuff, how to access important accounts/information, and slog through the tedious intestate probate process. Estate planning can create chaos and even incite litigation between heirs over the deceased’s estate. Just like Thanksgiving traditions create a lasting memory, estate planning is your opportunity to leave a lasting legacy.

Offer to Help 

Estate planning can sound intimidating to someone who’s never gone through the steps before. Offer to help by recommending an experienced estate planning attorney they can trust.

Pass Along Something Tangible

Want to pass along something beyond just words? You can also share this handy dandy checklist and free, no-obligation Estate Plan Questionnaire.

thanksgiving table

Encouraging all the people you care about to articulate their wishes is truly something to be thankful for! If you or any of your loved ones want more information feel free to contact GFLF for a complimentary consult.

Financials in book

What is a financial power of attorney?

A financial power of attorney is a legal document that designates someone to handle your financial decisions on your behalf.

What happens if I don’t have a financial power of attorney?

If you do not have a power of attorney and you were to become incapacitated, any financial decisions would need to be made by a court-appointed conservator. At a court’s direction, the conservator would handle your financial assets. It’s a quite expensive and time consuming process, especially compared to the relative simplicity of executing a power of attorney.

After I die, can my agent continue to operate under my financial power of attorney?

A common misperception is that your agent will be able to use this power after your death. At your death, any power of the agent is automatically revoked and it will be necessary to switch management to the representative appointed through probate.

Laptop with finance info on it

Who should I choose to serve as an agent?

The agent you choose will be managing your finances, so it is critically important to choose someone trustworthy; someone who will not abuse or exploit this power; someone who will listen to your wishes, goals, and objectives, as included in the document or otherwise communicated; and, someone who will look out for your best interests.

You also have the option of designating a successor agent who can take over if the original agent is unable or unwilling to serve. This is highly recommended.

Who should receive a copy of my financial power of attorney?

The person named as agent and any person named as a successor agent should receive a copy. It would also be wise to share a copy with your financial institution(s), such as your bank or credit union.

Can I revoke the financial power of attorney?

Yes, you may revoke the document, at any time. You can also amend the document (change it, revise it, etc.) at anytime.


Financial power of attorney is one of the six main documents which comprise Iowans’ estate plans. To get started on establishing your financial power of attorney contact me by phone at 515-371-6077 or email.

woman with hand out to stop

Based on every statistic I’ve seen, the majority of Americans don’t want anything to do with estate planning or the perceived headaches that come with it. However, making excuses to avoid investing in a valuable legal set of documents (that comes with numerous benefits) will do nothing to cement your legacy and intent for transfer of assets.

Here are some of the excuses I’ve heard from people about why they don’t have an estate plan:

  • “I don’t have any assets, and just a whole bunch of debt.”
  • “Isn’t that just for rich, older people?”
  • “I don’t need an estate plan my wife and kids are going to inherit everything I own.”
  • “I’m super healthy, so I don’t think I would ever need a health care power of attorney.”
  • “My spouse can take care of it.”
  • “Getting a will made for myself is too expensive and time consuming.”
  • “If I talk too much about it, I might jinx myself.”

Yet, everyone over 18-years old, regardless of age, debts, assets, and marital status should have an estate plan in place. (Here are the six “must have” estate planning documents you can focus on initially.) In the beginning it may feel uncomfortable talking about the details of your estate plan—that’s normal. But, there is deep and lasting peace of mind in knowing that there is a plan in place in the event of your incapacitation or untimely death, which far outweighs any discomfort.

So, cast off all excuses by embracing the benefits of having a strong estate plan in place. The benefits include, but are certainly not limited to, peace of mind, financial security for your family, established guardianships for your children, reducing taxes, fees, and costs, and saving your family and friends untold time, trouble, and heartbreak.

Have questions? Need more information?

A great place to start is the Estate Plan Questionnaire. Of course, feel free to reach out any time. You can contact me by email at Gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com or give me a call at 515-371-6077.

Flag in field with sun

“True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.” -Arthur Ashe

On Veterans Day and every day, we at Gordon Fischer Law Firm want to say a heartfelt thanks for our veterans’ sacrifice and service. We work with many veterans on estate planning and in nonprofit-related work, and it’s always an honor. There are not enough “thank you’s” in the world to express our gratitude for what you have done for our country. We would also like to extend this sentiment to first responders as well—police, fire, and EMS personnel.

 

Veterans Day flags

As a veteran your story is important. Your legacy is important. To preserve that legacy of strength and service, you need an estate plan to ensure your property and assets are distributed to your loved ones and favorite charities in accordance with your wishes.

So, in an attempt to express our gratitude we would like to offer 25% off the cost of an estate plan package to all Iowan active duty or retired service members and first responders. The discount will be honored through 11/30/2018. Contact GFLF via email or by phone (515-371-6077) to discuss your estate planning needs.

What does an Estate Plan include?

There are six documents that should be part of most everyone’s estate plan.

  1. Estate planning questionnaire
  2. Will
  3. Power of attorney for health care
  4. Power of attorney for finances
  5. Disposition of personal property
  6. Disposition of final remains

You should keep these documents updated and current. (Here are a few common “big” events that necessitate estate plan revisions.) Also, don’t forget about assets with your beneficiary designations. For most Iowans, that’s good – six documents, keeping them current, and also remembering about those assets with beneficiary designations.

 

American flag on chair

Cost of an Estate Plan

Because I want every Iowan to have an up-to-date estate plan I’m very transparent with the cost of an estate plan that that takes into full consideration YOUR situation. (This is why you need an experienced estate planner to draft your documents.) Speaking very generally, an estate plan from my Firm usually costs a single person about $790, and a family about $990. So, with this Veterans Day discount, that’s a saving of about $197.50 for singletons to $247.50 for a family.

Estate Planning Process

I write about my process at length, but it’s just five steps! Seriously, it’s not that painful. My clients report back to me that they have such relief and peace of mind when it’s completed.

Contact

If you’ve been making excuses or have an extremely outdated estate plan now’s the time to check it off your list (and get a discount while doing so!).

How to get started? Contact me by the end of the month (11/30) via email (gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com) or phone (515-371-6077) and fill out my free Estate Plan Questionnaire.


DISCLAIMERS

The “Veterans Day discount” is only applicable for estate plans created by active or retired veterans and first responders (and their spouses). Availability of the discount ends after November 30, 2018 at which point prospective client must have contacted Gordon Fischer Law Firm and indicated an intention to make an estate plan.
Veterans Day discount merely relates to pricing and in no way creates an attorney-client relationship, nor any other kind of professional relationship. The Veterans Day discount does not create a contract or agreement of any kind.
Gordon Fischer Law Firm, P.C. retains full and total discretion as to who it chooses to serve as clients and why. Gordon Fischer Law Firm, P.C. retains the right to refuse service to anyone it so chooses.
The Veterans Day discount may not apply to individuals or families with a net worth of more than $1 million dollars. (You still need an estate plan, very much so, but it necessarily needs to be more “complex” to adequately account for all assets.).
Gordon Fischer at desk with client

“The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.” —Shakespeare, Henry VI

This line is oft-quoted to suggest the Bard felt contempt for lawyers. But, it’s notable that Will, one of the most acclaimed writers of the English language, hired a lawyer (Francis Collins of Warwick) to craft a very detailed will.

DIY Will?

Still, a common question I get all the time is, “Can I write my own will? Do I really need an attorney?” It’s a fair question.

In this age, you can watch a YouTube video, read a DIY blog post, or ask your network on Twitter, to fix or build or make almost anything. There’s limitless information, which makes it feel like you can bypass the “pros” for a cheaper, simpler fix. So, yes, you can write your own will or use an internet service like LegalZoom.

The question, though, isn’t whether you can write your own will, with some research surely you can. The question is instead: should you write your own will? And, if so, will it be valid and hold up in court?

To this point, hypothetically, with lots of study, you could perform oral surgery on yourself, but should you do so and will it turn out well?

Economic Self-Interest?

Before I provide nine reasons you should hire a lawyer to draft your estate plan, let’s deal head on with the idea that my conclusion is based on my own economic self-interest. “Of course you want people to hire an estate planning lawyer, because you are one!”

But, I’m not saying you should hire a lawyer only if that lawyer is me, Gordon Fischer of Gordon Fischer Law Firm…although, if you’re interested, we can certainly schedule a free consultation with no obligation. Rather, I’m just saying you should hire a competent lawyer well-versed in estate planning and probate law. There are many fine Iowa attorneys. This is not about me and my money, this is about you and your money.

The plain truth is you need a lawyer to help you with your estate planning. Here are nine reasons why.

Reason #1: You need more than just a will

Always remember, and never forget, you don’t just need a will, you need an estate plan. While the two terms “will” and “estate plan” are often used interchangeably, this is wrong, as they are two different things. An estate plan is a set of legal documents to prepare for your death or disability. A will is just one of those legal documents, albeit an important one.

In fact, there are at least six “must have” estate planning documents you need. So, you don’t need to draft just one legal document and get it right, but several.

Reason #2: Save time and energy

Handing off the complex task of drafting a thorough estate plan to a responsible professional will alleviate an immense burden on you. It’s simply a lot of work to write an estate plan.

Reason #3: Save money

stacked up coins

Without an estate plan, you and your estate may end up paying more in the long run in professional fees, court costs, and taxes. Using  a flat rate with an attorney will be much more straightforward and to your long-term economic advantage.

Reason #4: Save more money

An experienced attorney knows where to look and what questions to ask to help you secure additional tax and financial benefits.

Reason #5: It’s complicated

I’ve mentioned this before, but this stuff is hard. It’s part art and part science. Every phrase, every word, can undo an estate plan.

Plus, the law is dynamically changing all the time. The federal government, Iowa government, agencies like the IRS, and courts at every level are changing the rules of the game constantly. It’s almost a full-time job keeping track of the current play of the rules, let alone learning the rules to begin.

Reason #6: One Shot

After you shuffle off this mortal coil, how many chances do you get to get your estate plan right? One! There is no second chance. Don’t get me wrong, you can always invest in a new estate plan if you realize your DIY attempt at an estate plan stinks. But, you shouldn’t have to if you get it right the first time! And, if something happens to you before you have the chance to make said second estate plan you’re out of luck. It’s done.

Plus, your estate plan will probably need updates and revisions following any big life or applicable legislative changes that you’ll want an attorney to help you address. (See reason #8 for more on this.)

Reason #7: Objectivity

Along with expertise, lawyers offer 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 dog Buster? Is your 18-year-old kid truly mature enough to handle your IRA worth a million dollars? A lawyer can give you direct, unvarnished, and unbiased advice.

Reason #8: The only constant in your life is change.

As your life changes, your estate plan must adapt. Perhaps you move to a new state. Maybe you have a kid and then some more kids. The kids grow up and have kids of their own. Throughout, perhaps you marry or divorce. Your financial situation significantly changes. All these life events, and many more, necessitate changes to your estate plan. You need a lawyer to tell you when your estate plan needs a tune-up and to perform the tune-up.

Reason #9: Lawyers themselves!

lawyer probate

It’s funny to think about, but nonetheless true. After you die, who will determine if your estate planning documents are valid? Lawyers! State judges (who will, of course, be attorneys) are going to review your estate plan documents. These judges will determine whether your documents meet the necessary requirements. You don’t want to leave it up to a judge, trained as a lawyer, to try to figure out if your DIY documents are valid under the Iowa Probate Code.

Closing Argument

Have I convinced you? Or do you still want to go it alone?

Feel free to contact me any time to discuss further why you need a lawyer to draft an estate plan. I offer a one-hour free consultation, without any obligation. I can be reached any time at my email, gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com, or on my cell, 515-371-6077.

fiduciary

A fiduciary role is one of the highest, strongest relationships between people. It is a role involving the highest care and the greatest importance. The people you choose to fulfill these roles should be carefully considered; they should be those whom you have the utmost confidence in.

Examples of common fiduciary roles include the executor of your will, trustees of your trusts, guardianships of your children, and agents for your financial and healthcare power of attorney. Other fiduciary roles include attorney, accountant, banker and/or credit union manager.

Often times, people choose corporate executors to remove some of the liability and risk, since corporate executors are familiar with the estate planning process. A corporate executor is going to know the drill. With a corporate executor, you have a true estate planning professional that knows and understands

If you DO choose to name a private individual to a fiduciary role within your estate plan, you need to ensure they are trustworthy, organized, and reliable.

The American Bar Association has comprehensively defined the different fiduciary duties as:

  • Duty of care;
  • Duty of loyalty;
  • Duty to account;
  • Duty of confidentiality;
  • Duty of full disclosure;
  • Duty to act fairly; and
  • Duty of good faith and fair dealing.

Understanding fiduciary duties and selecting the right individuals will help you feel content, secure and satisfied with your estate plan.

Have questions? Need more information?

I would love to discuss your estate plan with you. You can contact me by email at Gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com or give me a call at 515-371-6077. Don’t have an estate plan? The best place to start is the Estate Plan Questionnaire.