Estate planning is all about strategy—leaving the right assets and inheritances to the right beneficiaries; timely distributions of the estate; and avoiding as many taxes and fees as possible. Another strategic move is deciding whether you and your spouse should use the same lawyer, or whether you should each have your own lawyer.

If you are married, please note you have the option of hiring separate attorneys for your estate planning needs.

Though the goals of most married persons are the same when it comes to wills, trusts, and estate planning, some married individuals (especially individuals who have children from prior marriages) have differing views on the ownership of property and beneficiaries, and naming executors, trustees, and guardians.

Likewise, some married individuals have private information they do not wish to share with their spouse — information that may be essential to the estate planning process that would have to be disclosed to the attorney and, therefore, disclosed to the spouse if I am representing both spouses.

Additionally, sometimes married individuals have “awkward” questions they wish to ask the attorney — questions they would not be comfortable asking in the presence of their spouse, such as how a divorce might affect their estate plan.

By obtaining separate attorneys, you would be able to:

  1. share in confidence any secrets or private information with your attorney that may be important to the estate planning process;
  2. ask in confidence whatever questions you may have; and
  3. receive completely confidential advice and counsel. 

If represented jointly, you will be waiving and losing all three of the above rights with respect to your spouse.

If you decide to obtain separate attorneys, this firm would be pleased to represent either one of you separately. If you are married and decide you would like this firm to represent both of you, then complete this Estate Plan Questionnaire jointly (please do not fill out two separate forms).

Joint Representation

 

Two brides in white wedding dresses

For many married couples, joint representation is a likely choice. The benefits are obvious; joint representation can be cost-effective and can be more efficient since you can work together on a single Estate Plan Questionnaire in preparation to meet with the estate planning lawyer. Another advantage is that the joint representation somewhat forces open and honest communication between you as a couple as you make decisions on beneficiaries (such as children and grandchildren), executors, and disposition of property.

It’s important for your lawyer to avoid conflicts of interest, so they can uphold and respect your attorney-client privilege. If you choose to have joint representation you may waive the conflict of interest clause so that you may be represented together. Or, of course, you can seek separate legal counsel and not sign such a clause.

This communication is critical if you opt for joint representation. Without it, disaster can strike mid-meeting with the lawyer if couples disagree about which child is most responsible in terms of estate execution or how much of a trust fund each beneficiary should receive at age 18.

Individual Representation

 

couple holding hands in green space

There are times when it is best for each spouse to seek separate legal counsel. One such time is when there are different interests that are at odds with each other. For example, if one or both people have children from a previous marriage/relationship that will be named as beneficiaries. There can be conflicting interests between stepparents and stepchildren when it comes to the estate. Additionally, if you both have your own individual estate planning lawyer, you may have more freedom to voice individual concerns, without having to audit your opinions in accordance with your partner’s desires.


Have questions? Need more information? A great place to start is by downloading my Estate Plan Questionnaire, or feel free to reach out at any time; my email is Gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com and cell phone is 515-371-6077. 

stop hand on sign

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.

Young couple holding hands

Who – what age group – needs to be most concerned with estate planning? 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.

But imagine, say, a young, married couple. They both have good jobs, live in a nice starter home, and have one or two toddlers.

This young couple tries to put away a little bit of money for savings, and in a 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:

  1. Choosing guardians for minor children. In an estate plan, you can choose the guardians of children. 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 who you would have chosen. Better to make this choice with plenty of time to consider and make a careful, well-reasoned choice.
  2. Save on fees, court costs, and taxes. A good estate plan can save you and your estate money on fees, court costs, and taxes – perhaps even achieve substantial savings. 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 most they possibly can to family and loved ones.
  3. Help favorite charities. Young people often are passionate about one or more causes. Having an estate plan means that you can put into place much needed help for your favorite charities.
  4. 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/everything.

Whatever your age, if you are interested in estate planning, a good place to start is my free Estate Planning Questionnaire, or you can contact me!

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.

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, I want to say a heartfelt thanks for our veterans’ sacrifice and service. I 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 my gratitude for what they have done for our country.

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 my gratitude I would like to offer 25% off the cost of an estate plan package to all Iowan active duty or retired service members. The discount will be honored through 11/30/2019. Contact me 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 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 singles 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 their spouses). Availability of the discount ends after November 30, 2019 at which point the 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 high net worth of around/more than a million-plus dollars. (You still need an estate plan, very much so, but it necessarily needs to be more “complex” to adequately account for all assets.).
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 are a couple tips to make the discussion a success as great as pumpkin pie.

Give the Best Advice at the Table

No one around the family table should be to disclose who they have named as heirs. That could be awkward depending on who’s in the room. (However, discussing your donative intentions should happen privately with beneficiaries and fiduciaries included in your estate plan.) 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.

Gordon Fischer at desk

How much does an estate plan cost? It’s an important question that you’ll rarely get a straight answer to. Fortunately, you can easily find the answer (specific to my services) here on this rate sheet.

All parties benefit from transparent information regarding costs. You’re writing an estate plan so there are no surprises regarding your assets after death. Certainly, the last thing you want is to be surprised at the cost of estate planning documents while you’re living!

Cost of an estate plan as an issue

When I talk with folks who want to complete an estate plan, but are procrastinating, a common concern that comes up is cost. People are concerned (and rightly so) about how much money they must fork over for an estate plan. So, no matter what lawyer you hire to draft or update your estate plan (and you do indeed need a lawyer to have this done right) make sure they’re completely upfront with you about what it will cost.

One Size Does NOT Fit All

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

clothes on hanger

This is why filling out an Estate Plan Questionnaire (EPQ) is such an important first step. You can gather the important and relevant information, all in one place, and think through some of the decisions you must make when building your estate plan. Plus, I can see from your EPQ what you might want and need to meet your planning goals. Once you complete the EPQ, you and I meet for a free one-hour consultation.

Let’s Talk About Your EPQ

In the free, one-hour consultation, we’ll talk about your estate planning situation 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!) Regardless of place, we’ll walk through your EPQ and I’ll listen carefully as you describe your intentions. I’ll answer your questions and address your concerns. Once we are both satisfied understand each other, I’ll give you my estate planning 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.

Only Then, My Bill

It is important to note I don’t bill you until the end of this process. Only once you have a fully executed estate plan (i.e., signed, notarized, witnessed), only then will I provide you my bill for services. And again, because I work on a flat fee basis, the bill will exactly match the figure I provided you earlier. Some clients write a check on the spot, and we’re done. Other folks want to pay along with all their other bills, so they pay me later. You may take the estate plan documents without paying. I trust you’ll pay me.

change and wallet on table

So, now the cost of an estate plan has been demystified, why not take control of your future and set your family and friends up for a smooth transition of all your assets in the case of illness, incapacitation, or death? As stated before, a great place to get the ball rolling is with my free EPQ. Also, feel free to reach out at any time by email, gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com, or on my cell, 515-371-6077.

slayer rule

In honor of Halloween, I thought it appropriate to explain the ominous-sounding principle of the slayer rule. [Cue a full moon, bats, and a high-pitched cackle here.]

It’s a plot you may come across in murder novels or movies: someone kills someone else in order to inherit money, a house, artwork, or anything else of assumed value. Or, in some cases, the intent might not specifically be an inheritance, but nevertheless, the “slayer” will inherit as a result of the other’s death.

This scheme hits at very core of what most people think is unfair and unjust–why should someone who cuts another’s life short be entitled to benefit from their criminal act? This is why most states have adopted “slayer statutes.”

For example, Iowa adopted such a law (Iowa Code § 633.535) in 1987. It says primarily:

A person who intentionally and unjustifiably causes or procures the death of another shall not receive any property, benefit, or other interest by reason of the death as an heir, distributee, beneficiary, appointee, or in any other capacity whether the property, benefit, or other interest passed under any form of title registration, testamentary or nontestamentary instrument, intestacy, renunciation, or any other circumstance. The property, benefit, or other interest shall pass as if the person causing death died before the decedent.

Note that states differ as to specific provisions and different factors like considerations of an insanity defense, and whether or not a slayer’s heirs are also disinherited. The information in the blog post is meant to speak generally. For slayer rule specifics, it’s important to consult with an experienced attorney in the jurisdiction in question.

Main Principles of the Slayer Rule

Generally speaking, the principle of the rule is that an estate plan beneficiary cannot inherit any property, fiduciary appointment, or power of appointment from a testator who the beneficiary intentionally and feloniously kills. The rule also applies if the beneficiary kills someone else (besides the testator) who had to die before they could inherit. In the case of an estate planning document (like a will), the entire will is interpreted by the court as if the slayer died before the testator. (This causes the gifts to said slayer-beneficiary to lapse.)

What if there is no will? The slayer rule still applies. So in the case of non-probate transfers (like a trust or a checking account with a beneficiary designation) the slayer could not inherit. The same goes if the slayer is an heir at law set to inherit under the state’s intestacy laws.

What Kind of Killing Triggers the Slayer Rule?

Typically the killing must be: 1) intentional; 2) felonious; and 3) without legal justification, like valid self-defense. Murder and some forms of manslaughter (such as voluntary manslaughter) tend to fulfill these requirements. Negligent homicide and involuntary manslaughter typically won’t qualify, as the slayer lacks the required element of intent.

For example, let’s say Anna has a son named Billy. Anna’s husband (Billy’s father) had passed away previously and Billy was set to inherit his mother’s entire estate under her will. Billy loved his mom and liked to make sure she still got out and did fun things in her older age. One night Anna and Billy go out to dinner and order some wine. Billy drinks a bit too much, but because his mother’s eyesight is impaired, Billy still chooses to drive his mother home even though he’s impaired. The car crashes and Anna, unfortunately, dies as a result, but Billy lives. Even if drunk driving is a felony in the jurisdiction, Billy lacked the intent element as there’s no evidence that shows he intended to kill Anna. Thus, the slayer statute would not prohibit Billy from inheriting Anna’s estate.

Does There Have to be a Trial and a Conviction?

For the slayer rule to come into play, there doesn’t need to be a criminal trial or a criminal conviction. It is enough for a civil litigation court to find the slayer responsible for the other’s death by a preponderance of the evidence. Interestingly enough, even if an alleged slayer is acquitted of a crime, it does not stop the civil court from applying the slayer rule and barring the inheritance.

That said, if there is a final, unappealable criminal conviction finding the killing to be intentional and felonious, it would establish all the requirements of the slayer rule. There would be no other need for other proof because such a criminal conviction requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

 Smart Estate Planning 

Of course, the odds that the slayer rule will apply to most of our estates is (thankfully) extremely rare. But it’s analogous to a more common situation — the beneficiary dying before the testator. An issue that then complicates donative intent is if the testator fails to or doesn’t have time to update their estate plan and there’s no remainder (or back-up) beneficiary to inherit instead. When working with an experienced estate planner it’s a wise idea to name secondary beneficiaries, as well as “back-up” will executors or trust trustees. That way distribution or administration of your hard-earned assets is not left up to the court.

Questions about the slayer rule or other somewhat obscure estate planning laws? Need to get started on your estate plan? Don’t hesitate to contact me for a free consult!

goodbye blue

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

Here in Iowa, the weather this weekend was bright and shiny in that perfect fall day kind of way. Almost as if the universe itself was celebrating NEPAW 2019.

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

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

We delved into a hypothetical situation that is fairly improbable (but it can and does happen) regarding the death of a buyer or seller during sales of real estate.

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

While we’ll have to wait a whole year until the next National Estate Planning Awareness Week, let’s always choose to be aware of the importance of estate planning regardless of the day. With a quality estate plan crafted by an experienced lawyer, every single day of our lives can be like a day of National Estate Planning Awareness Week!

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

  1. If you don’t yet have an estate plan, get one. NOW. Filling out my Estate Plan Questionnaire is a great and easy way to start the process.
  2. Talk to your family, friends, colleagues, and others, about your own estate planning experiences. If it was easier and less expensive than you thought it might be, share that info. If having six basic documents, brought you great peace of mind, tell them so.
  3. Subscribe to my free e-newsletter, GoFisch, delivered to your inbox every month. It’s chock full of helpful information and may be the least boring legal newsletter ever.

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