A will may provide for disposition of the testator’s assets at the time the will is executed, but of course it may be many years—many decades, even—between the will’s execution and the testator’s death. What if between the execution of the will and the testator’s death, there are changes in circumstances (such as the death of beneficiary) which make it impossible for the executor to follow the dispositive provisions of the will? That’s where estate planning gets complicated and can open the door to litigation.

Changed Circumstances = Default

Of course, we would first look to the language of the will. But, what if the will fails to address the changed circumstances? In such cases, Iowa law provides default rules. Obviously, it is much preferable for the estate planner to raise the possibility of changed circumstances with the testator during the drafting process, and address them accordingly with clear language in the will. (Yet, another reason to use a lawyer to draw up your estate plan.) And, yes, you should keep your will (and overall estate plan) updated.

Death of a Beneficiary

If Grace provides in her will, “I give Lawrence $10,000,” and Lawrence dies before Grace, the will can’t be followed exactly as written. Of course, this situation can and should be avoided by careful drafting – the estate planner asking what the testator wants if a beneficiary should predecease the testator. If, continuing this example, Grace wants the bequest to pass to Lawrence’s estate or Lawrence’s children if Lawrence predeceases her, Grace should so specify in her will. If instead Grace wants the bequest to go to other beneficiaries, the will should spell that out, too.

The Doctrine of Lapse

Let’s take our example and apply the doctrine of lapse. Under the common law, a bequest would fail, or lapse, if the beneficiary predeceased the testator. The bequest would simply fall back to the estate.

Iowa’s Anti-Lapse Statute   

Iowa is among the majority of states which have adopted anti-lapse statutes. Iowa Code Section 633.273 provides that if a beneficiary (actually, the statute uses the legal term devisee) dies before the testator, leaving children who survive the testator, the devisee’s children inherit the property devised, unless the terms of the decedent’s will is clear and explicit to the contrary.

Real Life Case

Clyde Guthrie executed a will in 2002 and died in 2006. His wife predeceased him, and so did two of his five children. Both of the predeceased children died before Guthrie executed his will. That turned out to be a key fact. Guthrie’s will left his entire estate equally to his five children except “in the event any of my children should predecease me leaving issue who survive me, then the share of such predeceased child shall go in equal shares to his or her issue who survive me . . .” His three surviving children claimed that the will language meant to include only them—the decedent’s children that survived him, and not the grandchildren of one of their deceased siblings. That predeceased sibling only had one child, and that child also predeceased the decedent, but left two surviving children–great-grandchildren of the decedent. (The other predeceased child died without having had children).

 

old hand and baby hand

Application of Facts to Iowa Code Section 633.273

On first glance Guthrie’s will appeared to be clear. Again, his will stated that if children predeceased him, “the share of such predeceased child shall go in equal shares to his or her issue who survive me.” However, the Iowa anti-lapse statute defines “devisee” as a person who dies after execution of the decedent’s will unless the will clearly specifies otherwise. Here the pre-deceased child that left surviving issue died long before the decedent executed his will. So, the anti-lapse statute didn’t apply, and the great-grandchildren were not beneficiaries of their great-grandfather’s estate.

Guthrie of course knew that two of his children had already died. The language of the Guthrie’s will, the Iowa Court of Appeals reasoned, could only possibly refer to the possibility of any or all of the three remaining children dying before he did – and the decedent’s will did not clearly state that issue of an already pre-deceased child should be included. (Review the case: Estate of Guthrie v. Busch, No. 8-093/07-1427 (Iowa Ct. App. May 14, 2008).

Back to the Basics: Let’s Review

With that example in mind, let’s review again the basics of the doctrine of lapse. Under the common law, if a beneficiary dies before the testator, the bequest lapses, i.e., goes back to the estate.

Iowa changed this rule by adopting an anti-lapse statute. Under current Iowa law, if the beneficiary dies before the testator, but leaves children who survive the testator, the beneficiary’s children inherit the property devised, unless the terms of the decedent’s will are clear and explicit to the contrary.

Of course, the problem of lapse/anti-lapse can be avoided through careful drafting by a trained professional, as well as annual reviews to see if your estate plan needs updating.


Have questions about your own estate plan that may be in need of revisions after learning about lapse? Contact me and we can talk about what changes would be wise for you to incorporate into your estate plan.

Gordon Fischer at desk with client

I’ve previously written about the six “must have” documents of everyone’s estate plan. These documents include some key people that are essential. But, the terms for some of these roles can be confusing. Let’s review the main ones today.

Who/What is a Beneficiary?

Let’s talk first about beneficiaries. This is a basic term you’ve probably heard before or seen while filling out documents. Your beneficiary is the person to whom you leave your belongings, assets, money, land, etc. Of course you can leave your stuff to more than one person, in which case there would be multiple beneficiaries. With multiple beneficiaries, you’ll have to clearly designate who gets what. This can be done in a number of ways; for example, percentages of total value of the estate, or it can be done with specifics.

An example of percentages:  “I want Beth to inherit 20% of my estate.”

An example of a specific bequest:  “I want my son John to inherit the country house and I want my daughter Suzie Q to inherit the lake house.”

You don’t have to be related to your beneficiaries, and you’re under no obligation to leave anything to family members whom you wish not to receive your assets (no matter how hard that may be or how guilty you might feel). You could elect to leave part or your entire estate to charities. It truly is your choice as to who should benefit under your estate plan.

There’s a lot more to say about beneficiaries, but for now, just remember to make sure all documents are up-to-date. Keeping your estate plan up-to-date ensures you avoid nightmares like your ex-husband from years ago cashing in on your retirement funds.

How about an Executor?

Let’s talk about the executor of the will. An executor is the person who is in charge of your estate plan. They make sure the will is carried out as it is written. It’s not an awful job, but it is an awful lot of responsibility. Most folks, having never had to deal with the execution of a will, might not know how arduous it can actually be. Additionally, your executor might be close to you and grieving your passing while trying to make sure everything is taken care of properly. It can be stressful, to say the least.

When picking an executor, you want to make sure it’s someone you trust. Obvious, right? But, it’s so much more than that. We all have people in our lives we love and trust on a personal level, but we know they’re not responsible with things like finances and details. Those people would not a good executor choice, generally speaking. Look for someone in your life who is detail-oriented and can handle the part-time job of dispensing an estate.

If there’s no such person in your life, or even if there is and you simply don’t want to burden them with the task, there’s another great option: corporate executors or trustees–which can be found at a bank or a credit union. The corporate executor offers the bonus of being completely neutral in all things, which can be helpful if you have sticky family dynamics that might make life difficult for the executor. The corporate executor does come at a cost, which is usually based on the size of the estate. I tend to think you get what you pay for, and this could be an excellent option to consider.

If you do go with an executor you know personally, you’ll want to sit down and talk with them about it. You want them to know that you’ve assigned them the task and why you chose them specifically. And, if you’re choosing one child out of many, you’ll want everyone to be on the same page so there’s no unexpected turbulence after you’re gone.

How about Legal Guardians?

Legal guardians are the folks who will take care of your minor children should something happen to you before they reach the age of 18. Like your executor, this job requires a lot of trust in the person you choose.

Clearly, this is not a job that ends after the estate is closed. Who you decide to choose should be a matter of closeness of relationship (as in bond, not necessarily family ties), mutual values, and ability to handle the responsibility. Have an in-depth conversation with the person or people you choose. You want to confirm that you’re comfortable with their parenting style, make sure they feel they’re up to the job, and let them know why you chose them.

Important Trait in Common: Trust

What’s the key theme in all of these roles from beneficiaries to executors to legal guardians? Trust. The level of trust you have in the people who are involved in and benefit from your estate plan should be strong to be successful. If you ever have any questions about selecting the key players in your estate plan, don’t hesitate to reach out.

Your Estate Plan Should be Unique to You

There it is in a nutshell. Those are the basics of the key people in your estate plan.

Whether your estate plan is simple or complicated, it does require some thought and time, but it’s worth the investment. A proper estate plan can save you and your estate costs, taxes, 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.

No Day Like Today

Why not start right now with my Estate Planning Questionnaire? It’s provided to you free, without any obligation.

Do you have an estate plan? Why or why not? I’d love to hear from you. You can reach me any time at gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com or by phone at 515-371-6077.

You are a superhero. Seriously, you have the ability to change the world or, at the very least, your little corner of it. In fact, changing the world can be as simple as asking yourself one question: what causes would I like to benefit in my will?

BEQUESTS TO CHARITIES IN YOUR WILL

You can include the nonprofits you care about most in your will, leaving a legacy after you have passed on. You can include charities like your church, alma mater, a local cause, or an international organization in your estate plan. If you ask the charity you care about most, I bet they’ll tell you that your charitable bequest, no matter how big or small, can make a huge impact. 

WHAT ABOUT MY KIDS?

When folks come to me for estate planning help, a major reason they do so—perhaps even the single reason they do so—is to benefit their children. Parents often think, “I love Charity X, but of course, I love my kids even more, and I’ve got to take care of my family.” Of course you do, and you should! However, I implore you to ask yourself another question: 

How much is enough for my kids?

If you have an abundance of assets, and/or your children are independent adults, could you provide adequate support for your children and include a bequest to one or more charities?

LET’S TALK

Invite the whole family to the kitchen table sometime (even if your kitchen table is a virtual one, via email or Zoom) and talk about the distributions you want to make at death. Ask if including gifts to charity from your estate plan would be appropriate and acceptable for your children. Perhaps it’s a charity the whole family supports. Perhaps this will be the beginning of a multigenerational cycle of giving.

Why not talk about it? This can be an especially productive conversation if you can explain that taxes are going to eat up a chunk of one or more of the assets, which can be avoided by giving said asset(s) to charity (since charities are tax-exempt).

LIFE INSURANCE

Sometimes when parents give a major asset(s) to charity, and their kid’s inheritance takes a real hit, they’ll buy a new life insurance policy to make up the shortfall to the kids. They may even buy a new life insurance policy and name the charity directly as a beneficiary. There’s also a very helpful kind of trust called an ILIT, that significantly increases the impact of life insurance. 

Without getting too complicated, let me explain the basics. An ILIT is an irrevocable, non-amendable trust which is both the owner and beneficiary of one or more life insurance policies. Upon the death of the insured, the trustee invests the insurance proceeds and administers the trust to one or more beneficiaries.

WHAT IS THE ROLE OF AN ESTATE PLANNER?

When it comes to estate planning, you’re thinking about so many different variables and scenarios – so what if you forget to factor in charity? Lucky for you, I’m here to help you maximize your charitable giving. That means determining how your generosity can not only help an organization make a difference, but how you can maximize the financial and estate-related benefits of giving.

STUDIES SHOWED

A 2013 study showed how lawyers, like me, can help charitable giving in estate planning. The scientifically-conducted research from the UK-based Behavioral Insights Team showed that when lawyers asked clients specific questions regarding charitable giving, the results were significant. Here are the findings:

CONTROL GROUP/BASELINE

Lawyers who provided no reminder or inquiry to their clients about possibly benefiting a charity in their estate plan (bequests) resulted in 4.9 percent of those clients including a charity in their plans.

TEST GROUP ONE

Lawyers who asked their clients, “Would you like to leave any money to a charity in your will?” resulted in 10.8 percent of their clients including a charity.

TEST GROUP TWO

Lawyers who said, “Many of our clients like to leave money to a charity in their will. Are there causes you are passionate about?” resulted in 15.4 percent of their clients including a charity. 

What a dramatic increase!

Here are the approximate dollar values associated with each group:

CONTROL GROUP/BASELINE

Average bequest – $5,000

TEST GROUP ONE

Average bequest – $4,800

TEST GROUP TWO

Average bequest – $10,200

Again, test group two gives a powerful example of the difference charity-minded estate planners can make.

In the study, there were a 1,000 people in each group. That means that “Test Group Two” raised over $1 million more than the control group.

Certainly, your lawyer plays an important role in reminding, guiding, and assisting you in your charitable giving so that you can use your superpower – charitable giving through your will – to the fullest extent.

In 2017, $35.70 billion was contributed to US charities through bequests. Imagine if everyone worked with a lawyer with a strong focus on charitable giving! The impact nonprofits make in our communities could be incredibly transformative.

LET’S GET STARTED

Harness your superpowers and start your legacy today! The best place to start is by filling out my Estate Plan Questionnaire. It’s easy, free, and there’s no obligation. It’s simply a document to get you thinking and planning. 

Already have an estate plan and want to update it to include the causes that are near and dear to your heart? Don’t hesitate to contact me.

*OK, not everything. But many things, let’s say, an excellent start.

A trust is a very useful legal arrangement which may save you, your heirs, and beneficiaries a great deal of money, time, and trouble, as well as help to keep important matters private. 

A trust is what one might consider an “extra” document to a basic estate plan (but an “extra” that can be super helpful, for the reasons discussed below). Over the last several blog posts, I discussed the six basic 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 financial matters
  5. Disposition of personal property
  6. Disposition of final remains

At the outset of this seven-part series of blog posts about estate planning, I explained the basics of a will. Then, I covered health care power of attorney, and also financial power of attorney. Most recently, I blogged about disposition of final remains.

When should you consider setting up a trust? You might consider a trust if you have:

  1. A blended family;
  2. More than $1 million in total assets;
  3. Unusual assets (such as one or more antique automobiles);
  4. Complex assets (for example, more than one piece of real estate, like a home and a vacation cabin); and/or
  5. Ownership of part or all of a business.

In such cases, as well as others (talk to your estate planning lawyer!), a trust may be helpful. 

WHAT IS A TRUST? HOW DOES IT WORK?

A trust will ensure that your wishes are followed and your assets appropriately handled after your death. A trust is simply a legal agreement among three parties—settlortrustee, and beneficiary—that provides instructions on how and when to pass assets to the trust’s beneficiaries. Let’s look at the role of each of these three parties, then delve more deeply into how trusts work. 

SETTLOR

A settlor—sometimes called the “donor, “grantor,” or “trustor”—is the person who creates the trust and has the legal authority to transfer assets into it.  

TRUSTEE

The trustee is the person who agrees to accept, manage, and protect the assets delivered by the settlor. The trustee has a fiduciary duty to administer the assets according to the trust’s instructions, and distribute the trust income and principal according to the rules outlined in the trust document. Distribution is done in the best interests of the beneficiary.

A trustee can be one, two, or more people. A trustee can also be what is known as a “corporate trustee,” such as a financial institution (like a bank) or a law firm that performs trustee duties and charges fees for their services. There are no formal requirements for being a trustee, and nonprofessionals frequently serve as a trustee for family members and friends.

BENEFICIARY

The beneficiary is the person or entity benefiting from the trust. The beneficiary can be one person or entity or multiple parties. Trust beneficiaries don’t even have to exist at the time the trust is created (such as in the case of a future grandchild or a charitable foundation that has not yet been established).

TRUST PROPERTY

A trust can be either funded or unfunded. “Funded” means that the settlor’s assets—sometimes called the “principal” or the “corpus”—have been placed into the trust. A trust is “unfunded” until the assets are in it. Please note that failing to fund a trust is a common estate planning mistake!  

TRUST ASSETS

Trusts can hold just about any kind of asset: real estateintangible property, business interests, and personal property. Common trust properties include farms, buildings, vacation homes, stocks, bonds, savings and checking accounts, collections, personal possessions, and vehicles.

“IMAGINARY CONTAINER”

Think of a trust as an “imaginary container” that holds and protects your assets. After the trust is funded, the trust property will remain in the same place as before the trust was created—your land will remain where it always was, your artwork on the wall, your money in the bank, your comic book collection in the den. The only difference is the asset will have a different owner: “The Jane Jones Trust,” rather than Jane Jones.

TRANSFER OF OWNERSHIP

Putting property in a trust transfers it from personal ownership to the trustee, who holds the property for the beneficiary. The trustee has what is called “legal title” to the trust property and, in most instances, the law treats trust property as if it were now owned by the trustee. Each trust has its own taxpayer identification number, just like an individual.

Do not be mistaken, trustees are not the full owners of trust property. Trustees have a legal duty to use trust property as directed in the trust agreement and as allowed by law. However, the beneficiaries retain what is known as “equitable title”—the right to benefit from trust property as specified in the trust.

ASSETS TO BENEFICIARY

The settlor provides terms in a trust agreement directing how the fund’s assets are to be distributed to a beneficiary. The settlor can provide for the distribution of funds in any way, so long as it is not against the law or against public policy. The near-limitless flexibility of trusts is a primary advantage for setting one up.

TYPES OF TRUSTS

A joke among estate planners says that the only limit to trusts is the imagination of lawyers. It’s true, though, that the number and kind of trusts are virtually unlimited.

Let’s start by taking a look at the four primary categories of trusts:

INTER VIVOS AND TESTAMENTARY TRUSTS

Trusts that are set up during the settlor’s lifetime are called “inter vivos” trusts.

Those that arise upon the death of the settlor, generally by operation of a will, are called “testamentary” trusts. There are advantages and disadvantages to both types of trusts, and how one decides depends upon the goals and purposes of the settlor.

REVOCABLE AND IRREVOCABLE TRUSTS

Inter vivos and testamentary trusts can be broken down into two more categories: revocable trusts and irrevocable trusts. A revocable trust, just as you might infer from the name, can be changed at any time during the settlor’s lifetime. The settlor can alter parts of the trust or even revoke the entire document.

IRREVOCABLE TRUST

An irrevocable trust, again, is as it sounds – it’s a type of trust that can’t be changed by the settlor after the agreement has been signed and the trust has been formed and funded. The terms of an irrevocable trust can’t be modified, amended, or terminated without the permission of the settlor’s beneficiary or beneficiaries.

A revocable living trust becomes irrevocable when the settlor dies because he or she is no longer available to make changes to it. A revocable trust can be designed to break into separate irrevocable trusts at the time of the grantor’s death for the benefit of children or other beneficiaries.

You might wonder, “Why make a trust irrevocable? Wouldn’t you want to maintain the ability to change your mind about the trust or its terms?”

Not necessarily.

Irrevocable trusts, such as irrevocable life insurance trusts, are commonly used to remove assets from a person’s estate and thus avoids the assets being taxed. Transferring assets into an irrevocable trust gives those assets to the trustee and the trust beneficiaries forever. If a person no longer owns the assets, they don’t comprise or contribute to the value of his or her estate, therefore they are not subject to, say, estate taxes upon death.

REVOCABLE LIVING TRUSTS

There is no “one size fits all” trust—different kinds of trusts offer different benefits (and drawbacks) depending on a person’s circumstances. Age, number of children, health, and relative wealth are just a few of the factors to be considered.

The most common trust my clients use is a revocable living trust (sometimes referred to by its abbreviation, “RLT”).

A revocable living trust is created while you’re alive and can be revoked or amended by you. An RLT has huge advantages:

  1. MONEY-SAVING

Establishing a revocable living trust helps avoid costly probate—the legal process required to determine that a will is valid. Probate generally eats up about two percent (2%) of an estate, which can add up to a chunk of change you’d probably rather see go to your beneficiaries.

Avoiding probate also means avoiding other fees, such as court costs, that go along with it.

  1. TIME-SAVING

A revocable living trust not only eliminates the costs of probate, but the time-consuming process of probate as well. Here in Iowa, probate can take several months to a year, or sometimes even longer, perhaps leaving beneficiaries without their inheritances until th end of the probate process. The transfer of assets through a trust is much faster.

  1. FLEXIBILITY

Don’t want your sixteen-year-old niece to inherit a half-million dollars in one big lump sum? I agree, it’s probably not a good idea.

A revocable living trust offers flexibility for the payout of an inheritance because you set the ground rules for when and how distributions are made. For example, you might decide your beneficiaries can receive certain distributions at specific ages (21, 25, 30, etc.), or for reaching certain milestones, such as marriage, the birth of a child, or graduation from college.

DRAWBACKS

Despite the significant advantages of establishing a revocable living trust, there are drawbacks people should be aware of. For starters, trusts are more expensive to prepare than basic estate plan documents such as a Will.  However, the costs associated with sitting down with a lawyer and carefully creating a trust is, in my opinion, greatly outweighed by the money your estate will save in the end.

Creating a trust can also be an administrative bother because assets (farm land,  business, stock funds, etc.) must be retitled in the name of the trust. All things considered, this is a small inconvenience that is greatly outweighed by the smooth operation of a trust when you pass away.

YOU CAN TRUST ME TO TALK ABOUT THE BEST TRUST(S) FOR YOU

Interested in learning more about trusts or questioning if you need one? Feel free to reach out at any time by email, gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com, or on my cell, 515-371-6077. 

If you want to simply get started on an estate plan (everyone needs at least the basic documents in place!) check out my estate plan questionnaire, provided to you free, without any obligation.

*OK, not everything. But many things, let’s say, an excellent start.

 

One way we can show our loved ones how much we care about them is by making our wishes known for when we’re no longer there to tell them. Estate planning is one of the best ways to do that, especially concerning what’s to be done with our physical body after death. One of the six main documents that are part of any estate plan is called the “disposition of final remains.” In this document, you can detail how you want your body to be treated after you pass away, along with any ceremonial requests. You may be as general or specific as you wish.

SIX “MUST HAVE” DOCUMENTS OF YOUR ESTATE PLAN

As discussed in 12 Things Every Iowan Should Know About Estate Planning, 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 financial matters
  5. Disposition of personal property
  6. Disposition of final remains

At the outset of this seven-part series of blog posts about estate planning, I explained the basics of a will . Then, I covered health care power of attorney, and also financial power of attorney.

Let’s now turn to the Disposition of Final Remains.

If you’ve ever had someone close to you die, and been tasked with making arrangements for the wake, funeral, and burial or cremation, you know it can be difficult. Not only are you dealing with the heartache and grief of losing a loved one, but now you’re also tasked with the organizational aspects of death.

If you die without an estate plan, and without clear instructions in a disposition of final remains document, you’ll be leaving your loved ones with a huge headache on top of the inevitable heartache. Perhaps even worse, ambiguity surrounding disposition of final remains can lead to tension between family members if they disagree over what would be best. Therefore, taking the time to think through your final services is a wonderful gift, and a great way to show your loved ones how much you care.

Let’s go through some of the basics related to this important, valuable document.

 WHAT DOES “FINAL DISPOSITION” MEAN ANYWAY?

Final disposition sounds, well, final. Indeed, this is about what you ultimately want to be done with your physical body following death. This may include burial (sometimes referred to interment), cremation, removal from the state (if you want to be buried in a different state), and other types of disposition. If you wish, you may also detail preference that a funeral or other type of ceremony (maybe even a party) to be held. If you’ve purchased a burial plot or want to be laid to rest in the family mausoleum, you would include those details here.

Again, your instructions in the Final Disposition of Remains may be as general or specific as you wish. Some of my clients have insisted that there be only the shortest and simplest of memorial services. Others have wanted a marching band and fireworks shooting their ashes into the sky. (Yes, that is a thing). It’s completely up to you.

CHOOSE A DESIGNEE

In the disposition of final remains document, you can designate one or multiple adults to assume responsibility for carrying out your wishes, similar to how you designate an executor to carry out the wishes as written in your will. Your designee or designees (sometimes also referred to as “representatives”) can be whomever you choose, just be sure to speak with them to make certain they are comfortable and accepting of the role.

Of course, the designee must be a competent adult. The document also allows for alternate designees to be named in the event the primary designee is unable to act.

CAN I CHANGE MY MIND?

Your wishes may change over time and that’s OK! The disposition of final remains is revocable, meaning you can change the document at any time. For example, you can name a new and different your designee if s/he becomes unable or unwilling. Regardless of whether or not you want to amend your disposition of final remains document, you should review your estate plan annually to see if any major life events require updates.

 HOW DO I START?

It’s always a good time to make a plan that saves your loved one’s headaches and heartache after your death. The disposition of final remains document is a key part of your estate plan, so a great place to get started is my free Estate Plan Questionnaire.

Questions or want to discuss your personal situation? Contact me at any time via email or phone (515-371-6077).

*OK, not everything. But many things, let’s say, an excellent start.

 

What IS a Financial power of attorney, anyway?

You’ve probably heard you need to have a financial power of attorney in place, but the whole thing seems a little ambiguous . . . what does this important legal document (which is a necessary part of a complete estate plan) actually mean? Let’s cover the basics.

SIX “MUST HAVE” DOCUMENTS OF YOUR ESTATE PLAN

As discussed in this previous blog post overview , 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 financial matters
  5. Disposition of personal property
  6. Disposition of final remains

In a follow-up blog post, we considered the basics of a will. 

And, in my latest blog post, we discussed the power of attorney for health care. 

 

Let’s move on, now, to the financial power of attorney.

WHAT IS A FINANCIAL POWER OF ATTORNEY?

A financial power of attorney (“POA”) is a legal document that designates someone (an “agent,” sometimes also called an “attorney-in-fact”) to handle your financial decisions on your behalf, if you are unable to do so while living, due to illness, injury, and/or lack of mental capacity.

IMMEDIATE VERSUS SPRINGING

There are two main types of financial power of attorney I offer my clients.

  • Immediate power—effective from the moment you sign it, without any medical certification; while immediate, you do not lose control of your affairs. (This is typically what I recommend.)
  • Springing power—becomes effective only upon medical certification that you are unable to carry on your legal and financial affairs.

WHAT HAPPENS IF I DON’T HAVE A FINANCIAL POA?

If you don’t have a financial POA, and you were to become incapacitated, any financial decisions would need to be made by a court-appointed conservator. Under a court’s direction, the conservator would handle your financial matters. To have a conservator appointed by a court is a quite expensive and time-consuming process, especially compared with the relative simplicity of executing a financial POA. Also, court proceedings generally being public, having a court consider whether or not you are “competent” to handle your own financial matters, is potentially embarrassing. Futher, you’d much rather leave your important financial decisions to a person you love and trust, over someone a court appoints (a court may not pick who you’d want).

AFTER I DIE, CAN MY AGENT CONTINUE TO OPERATE UNDER MY FINANCIAL POA?

A common misperception is that your agent will be able to use this power after your death. Not true! Upon death, your financial POA terminates and your will and/or trust kick in to guide decision making in your absence.

Put another way, at your death, your agent’s powers are automatically revoked. The representative appointed through the probate process will carry out your estate plan.

WHO SHOULD I CHOOSE TO SERVE AS AN AGENT UNDER MY FINANCIAL POA?

The agent you name 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 always look out for your best interests.

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.

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 POA?

I recommend that the person named as agent and any person named as a successor agent should receive a copy of your financial POA. You may also wish to share a copy with your financial institution(s), such as your bank/credit union, as well as with your financial advisor and/or accountant.

CAN I REVOKE MY FINANCIAL POA?

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

ARE THERE OTHER ESTATE PLANNING DOCUMENTS I NEED?

Yes, definitely! There are six “must have” estate planning documents. The financial power of attorney is one of these documents that create a basic, overall estate plan.

WHO NEEDS A FINANCIAL POA?

I’m a staunch believer that every adult Iowan needs an estate plan—including young professionalsnewlyweds, the non-wealthy, and especially people with minor children—and, therefore a financial POA. A financial POA can even be incredibly important (but often overlooked) for college students.

Do you have a financial POA? How about a full estate plan in place? Why or why not? I’d love to hear from you. Email me at gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com or call (515-371-6077).

*OK, not everything. But many things, let’s say, an excellent start.

 

SIX “MUST HAVE” DOCUMENTS OF YOUR ESTATE PLAN

As discussed in this previous blog post overview, 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 financial matters
  5. Disposition of personal property
  6. Disposition of final remains

Last blog post, I explained the basics of a will. 

In this post, let’s discuss the benefits and important aspects of a health care power of attorney.

WHAT IS A HEALTH CARE POWER OF ATTORNEY?

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

WHAT TYPES OF DECISIONS CAN BE MADE BY A HEALTH CARE POA?

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

WHEN WOULD I USE A HEALTH CARE POA?

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

WHAT HAPPENS IF I DON’T HAVE A HEALTH CARE POA?

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

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

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

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

IS THERE A “ONE-SIZE-FITS-ALL” POA FOR HEALTH CARE?

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

DO I NEED OTHER ESTATE PLANNING DOCUMENTS IN ADDITION TO A HEALTH CARE POA?

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

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

*OK, not everything. But many things, let’s say, an excellent start.

will is the bedrock of every estate plan. 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

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 even 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.

  1. Who do you want to have your stuff?
  2. Who do you want to be in charge of carrying out your wishes as expressed in the will?
  3. 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.
  4. 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

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 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 as 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. 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 your 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, or 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, it is a 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’s 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 at 515-371-6077.

*OK, not everything. But many things, let’s say, an excellent start.

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 it 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!

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 and you should keep each 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 financial matters
  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 for 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

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 FINANCIAL MATTERS

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 antique 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 you, your spouse, or other family member
  • 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, passes away

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 the appropriate institution.

WHAT OTHER DOCUMENTS MIGHT YOU NEED BESIDES THESE SIX “MUST HAVE” ESTATE PLANNING DOCUMENTS? 

For many Iowans, what I’ve outlined above is enough. There may be folks who have, say, more than $1 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.

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. With an estate plan, you can be a real-life charitable superhero!

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.

*OK, not everything. But many things, let’s say, an excellent start.

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).