creative sticker

To all of my estate planning clients, I stress the need for a complete estate plan. The set of documents includes more than a last will and testament. It also includes a health care power of attorney, disposition of personal property, and disposition of final remains, among others. But, each individual and their situation is unique and accordingly, an estate plan can and should be customizable. Beyond the baseline documents, some people elect to include a living will, while others choose to set-up a living trust. Furthermore, the specific content within the documents can range immensely when it comes to particular provisions, charitable bequests, and instructive wishes. You may even choose to get a bit “creative” with your estate plan, like the following famous examples of out-of-the-ordinary instructions.

Hairy Situation

Napoleon Bonaparte, the infamous French emperor and military leader, issued unique end-of-life directives that differed from his typical military orders. Just days before his death, Bonaparte inserted a clause stating that if he were assassinated by the “English oligarchy” that, “The English nation will not be slow in avenging me.” He also requested that his hair be divvied up among his family and stated:  “Marchand shall preserve my hair, and cause a bracelet to be made of it, with a little gold clasp, to be sent to Empress Maria Louisa, to my mother, and to each of my brothers, sisters, nephews, nieces, the Cardinal; and one of larger size for my son.”

Napoleon chair

Final Resting…Can

If you don’t want to make gifts out of your hair, you could request to be buried in a Pringles can like Fred Baur (who invented Pringles). Alternatively, you could be made into a series of limited-edition Frisbees and sell them like Ed Headrick (who, you guessed it, invented Frisbee and founder of the Disc Golf Association).

Family Find

Perhaps you want to issue a challenge in your estate plan like the late magazine mogul William Randolph Hearst. In Hearst’s estate plan, he challenged popular rumors, stating that anyone who could prove that they were an illegitimate child of his would inherit a $1. Spoiler alert: no one ever claimed it. (He also barred his five sons from running Hearst Corporation, which goes to show estate planning and business succession planning go hand in hand.)

one dollar bill

Better Letter

In a different kind of challenge, novelist and playwright George Bernard Shaw left money behind to fund the creation of a brand new alphabet, called the “Shaw Alphabet.” He left the conditions that the alphabet must have 40 letters, be phonetic, and totally different from the Latin alphabet. He also stipulated his desire for his script, Androcles and the Lion, to be printed in the winning alphabet.

Choose Your Own Adventure

This all goes to show the point of estate planning: YOU get to choose. Not the court and not family members who may be left confused as to what’s best or what you would have wanted. Your estate plan is where you get to choose what’s best for you, your loved ones, and your hard-earned assets.

I’d love to help draft the perfect individualized estate plan for you. One of the best ways to get started thinking about what you want is by filling out my free, no-strings Estate Plan Questionnaire. Or, you can contact me via email or phone.

cutting into a pie

Pi (π) is the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. Pi is a constant number, meaning that for all circles of any size, Pi will be the same. (It’s also a great day to deliver pie to Gordon Fischer Law Firm…any kind will do!)

Like geometry, in estate planning there are many variables, and some constants, too. Ironically, one of the constants in estate planning is change. And as your life and circumstances changes, your estate plan needs to change too.

Change & Your Estate Plan

Let’s assume you’ve gone to an estate planning lawyer, and you have (at the very least) the six “must have” estate planning documents. That’s great, well done. (You can read all about these six documents here.).

But remember you also need to keep these documents updated and current.

Major Life Events

If you undergo a major life event, you may well want to (re)visit with your estate planning lawyer, to see if this life event requires changing your estate plan through different provisions, tools, and strategies.

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

  • The birth or adoption of a child or grandchild
  • Marriage or divorce
  • Illness or disability of a spouse or beneficiary
  • 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
  • Launch or closure of a business

This is just a short list of life events that should cause you to reconsider your estate plan; there are many others.

Changes in goals

It’s not just life changes, though. It may be that your overall goals for your estate plan have changed over time. You may want to change the amounts of inheritances. As your financial situation changes, you may want to increase or decrease, your charitable bequests.

Laws are dynamic and changing

And, it’s not just changes in your own life you need to think about, either. Congress, the Iowa legislature, and the courts are constantly changing the laws. When the rules change, so too must your estate plan.

Meet the Donor Family

To illustrate when estate plans should be updated, let’s look at the Donor Family. Jill and Dave have been married for 25 years and have four grown children. They executed a common-sense estate plan a few years ago.

Since that time, the Donors have gone through many changes, as you would expect, and as all families have. Should Jill and Dave update their estate plan to reflect changes in their family’s circumstance? Consider the following:

Divorce

One of the Donor kids filed for a divorce from his wife. Jim and Carol need to update their estate plan since they decided they now want to exclude the ex-spouse as a beneficiary.

Changes in financial status

Jill’s uncle passed away and left her a great deal of money. The Donors need to determine how this inheritance will affect their current plan and future estate tax liability. The Donors may want to be more generous to their favorite charities. They may want to talk to their estate planning lawyer about charitable giving through a planned gift, such as a charitable gift annuity or charitable remainder trust.

Birth

Our example couple’s youngest child recently announced that she and her spouse are expecting their first child. Jill and Dave must update their estate plan to provide for the new grandchild.

Major changes in health

The Donor’s youngest child was in a serious car accident, which resulted in severe disability. He can no longer work and is receiving government disability benefits. The Donors will want to seriously consider setting up a special needs trust. This type of trust will allow a beneficiary to receive inheritances, without it being considered income by the government for qualification purposes.

New real estate outside Iowa

Jill and Dave recently bought a vacation home in Arizona. The vacation home may well be affected by Arizona laws. In any case, the Donors’ estate plan should reflect this new asset.

vw bus in arizona

As you can see the Donor Family has many reasons to revisit their estate plan, and more than likely, so do you! In between bites of your favorite pie, review your current estate plan to make sure its current. (If you still need an estate plan, the best place to start is with my Estate Plan Questionnaire.) Additionally, I can always be found at gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com and 515-371-6077.

Fancy estate planning pen on notebook

Estate planning documents express your wishes in the event of your disability or death. However, estate planning documents must follow certain formalities to be legally enforceable. If your estate planning documents lack these formalities, they may not be enforceable, which could be disastrous for your loved ones and beneficiaries.

Iowa Requirements

Keep in mind estate planning requirements vary state by state. Let’s look at a Last Will and Testament, just one of six “must have” estate planning documents every Iowan needs. For a will to be valid in Iowa, it must comply with these requirements:

  • Maker (testator) must be at least 18 years of age or married;
  • Maker must be of “sound mind”;
  • Will must be written;
  • Will must be signed by maker in presence of at least two competent witnesses, at least 16 years of age, who also sign in presence of maker and each other; and,
  • Maker must tell the witnesses it is his or her will.

Formalities Matter

It is important to have a reputable legal professional handle your estate planning. If you don’t, you risk missing one or more legal formalities, which might make your entire estate plan worthless. For this reason, avoid creating a will, or for that matter any estate planning documents, through an online service.

Starting an estate plan may seem like a daunting chore, but it doesn’t have to be. The easiest place to start is with my free, no-obligation Estate Plan Questionnaire. Of course, you may always reach out to me at any time with any questions or concerns.

woman in front of painting

If you’re growing an art collection it brings up an interesting situation: how do you incorporate your prized pieces into your estate plan? Sure, you likely don’t have an authentic da Vinci, Renoir, or Klimt just hanging in your living room, but maybe you have a couple of pieces you inherited or a burgeoning modern art collection.

Value of a Passion

For most collectors the art isn’t about monetary value, but more so about a passion for a certain period, artist, or medium. Collecting is often an act of genuine appreciation for the fine arts. Considering both the intrinsic and market value of your art collection it’s ESSENTIAL you include it as a part of your estate plan. The collection is, after all, a part of your total estate’s value and they way it’s handled in your estate plan could impact the value of your gross estate in regards to the federal estate tax. When it comes to the estate planning goal of avoiding such taxes and fees the appraised value of your art is paramount to consider. Naturally, you want your collection to be well-treated following your passing, as well as retain its value.

Let’s go through some important steps and elements to consider.

Assemble Documentation

The value of the collection will be important to the estate plan. If you haven’t done so already, you must correctly catalog, photograph, insure, and appraise the collection. You should also gather all documentation such as appraisals and bills of sale that will need to accompany the artwork as it changes hands upon your estate plan’s execution.

Weigh Your Options

With an art collection, there are three main options for disposition within your estate plan (or to be executed during your life).

Donate

Donating your art to a charitable organization or a museum is an excellent way to practice smart charitable giving. It can also be one of the more simple options. Donate through your estate plan following your death and the estate will receive a tax deduction based on the current valuation. Give while you’re living and you can take an income tax deduction, also based on the value of the piece or collection at the time of the donation.

With this option, you and the recipient organization should agree to signed terms and conditions BEFORE the artwork delivery. Details can include specifics as to where and how the art is to be displayed if you want your name on the signage next to the painting and similar details.

Bequest Artwork to your Loved Ones

Another common option is to keep the art within the family by passing along the art along to your estate’s heirs. Yes, you could gift each individual piece to each family member, but if you want to keep the collection intact you could transfer the collection to a trust you create while living that can be updated and changed during your lifetime. A trust is a solid estate planning tool that allows your named trust beneficiaries to avoid estate tax and probate complications and fees. In the formation of your trust, you can also define the terms for the care and condition of the artwork.

You could instead bequest the collection to an entity like an LLC you create. In this case, your heirs would own interest in the LLC instead of each owning a piece of art. In your estate plan and in the development of the entity you can appoint a manager (or multiple managers) who make sales or purchasing decisions for the collection.

Sell

It goes without saying that art is expensive—to buy and to sell. There are benefits (and detriments) to this option during life and after death, but waiting to sell until after death means the art’s value will be included in the estate. As such the capital gains tax could be lessened or entirely eliminated because the tax basis for the art collection is increased to fair market value at the time of death, instead of what you paid for the art/collection. If you instead would like to sell while alive you can likely expect to pay a capital gains tax on top of a sales commission fee and sales tax (among other potential fees).

Give, gift, sell—whatever option you choose, select a plan that allows you to feel at peace with where and to whom your collection is headed.

Enlist an Expert

Regardless of what option you want to pursue in the disposition of your art work, you need to work with an experienced estate planner who can help navigate the complexity of your estate. It’s your estate planning lawyer who can help you establish a framework for passing along your artwork to your chosen beneficiaries.

Discuss With Your Family

Depending on your family dynamic, discussing your estate plan with your loved ones can be difficult. It can bring up emotion and hard topics like mortality, however, to avoid litigation, mitigate in-fighting, and help determine what’s the best course of action forward for your property it’s necessary. When it comes to your art collection, your heirs may not feel the same way about the artwork that you do and knowing these opinions is critical in the decision of what to do with the collection.

When having the conversation, cultivate an environment in which your family can discuss openly and freely without judgment. You want their honest opinions as a part of your decision in what to do with your collection in the event of your passing.

art graffiti


Just as the art itself can be exceedingly complex, so can incorporating said art into an estate plan. You probably have questions; don’t hesitate to reach out at any time via email or phone (515-371-6077). I offer a free one-hour consultation and would love to help you protect your artistic assets through quality, individualized estate planning.

Dog in dog house

When you own a pet, every day is a celebration of your furry/feathery/fuzzy friend…except maybe when they leave a stain on the new carpet. But, today is National Love Your Pet Day, which means it’s a special reason to celebrate! So after you’re done posing with your pup on Instagram, contact an estate planner about including Spot in your estate plan! Don’t worry, you don’t need to name your bunny or bird as a beneficiary in your will to include them as a part of your family. There’s a special kind of trust just for animals—known as a pet or animal care trust.

dogs on a dog walker's leash

Top Dog Benefit: Peace of Mind

It’s easy to establish but can make a world of difference for your animal companion if something were to happen to you. Of course, we would all hope that our families or friends would adopt our pets without hesitation and given them all the love in the world. But, for many reasons, that doesn’t always happen. An animal care trust gives you peace of mind that your pet will be provided for if you were to pass away or become incapacitated in a way that prohibits you from fully being able to care sufficiently for the pet.

Animal Care Elements: Consider These Questions

There are just a few key questions you should consider with an animal care trust.

  1. If something happens to you, who do you want to have guardianship of your pet? This caregiver should be a trusted someone that can give ample care and love to your pup. It’s a good idea to name a successor caregiver just in case.
  2. Who do you want to be the trustee of the trust? The trustee is the person who distributes trust funds and ensures that the pet’s caregiver follows the owner’s instructions as set out in the trust. For instance, you could designate your mother as the trustee and your brother as the caregiver. You can name a successor trustee if the first individual is unable or unwilling.
  3. Who would you like named as the remainder beneficiary of the trust’s funds? If your pet passes before the trust is exhausted, where would you like the money to go? This is a great opportunity to name an animal care charity which would put the money toward helping more animals!
  4. What are your pet’s standard of care and daily life? What do they like to do? You’ll want to detail things like health care needs (like medicine), food preferences, and activities they love (like playing catch or running alongside a bike). If you want your pet to visit the veterinarian for check-ups every six months, this can also be written in.
  5.  What features (breed/age/color/name) identify your pet? Identifying the dog in detail can prevent a guardian from replacing the original pet as a way of illegally extend trust distributions! (Not that they would…but just in case.)
  6. Do you have a preference for the disposition of your dog? This is optional, but you could choose to specify burial under a favorite tree in the backyard, or cremation.
  7. How much money do you want to set aside in the trust? This money is what will be used to provide care for your pet. You’ll also want to specify how the money will be distributed to the caregiver of your animal. Generally, this figure can’t exceed what may reasonably be required given your pet’s standard of living.
  8. Do you want to compensate the caregiver? If you wish, you can compensate the caregiver in their role. Generally, a small monthly or annual stipend is acceptable.

Note that a good estate planner will include “all present and future pets” in the pet trust with some specific verbiage. This is a bit of estate planning insurance, just in case you don’t have the chance to update your pet trust if you add a new animal to your family in the future.

Why Not Just a Will?

One questions I’ve received from pet parents in the past is: why can’t I just include my cat in my will? They have a point and they’re on the right track. Pets are considered personal property, so you can include them in your will with language such as, “My daughter will inherit my house and my hedgehog, Sonic.”

However, a will is a document that facilitates transfers of assets—it doesn’t enforce demands tied to the property. Instructions in a will are unenforceable, there is nothing to stop the pet caregiver to ignoring instructions in a will completely. But, in an animal care trust, you can hone in on specific habits and behaviors such as: Rover eats X certain kind of dog food and should be taken to a dog park at least once a week. If the caregiver didn’t feed Spot a certain kind of dog food or take him to the dog park, the trustee could get the caregiver’s status revoked and the pet would transfer to the successor guardian.

Close up of dog licking camera

Unlike a specific trust, a will doesn’t address the possibility that your pet may need to be cared for by a guardian if you become incapacitated. Additionally, wills go through the probate process and the property transfer is not immediate. Where will the pet reside during this process? If litigation over the estate occurs who is caring for the pet.

Unlike a testamentary trust for children in a will, the document doesn’t allow don’t allow for disbursement of funds over a pet’s lifetime. If you bequest funds to your intended animal guardian it would be distributed all at once and there’s nothing to stop that individual from using the money on themselves and selling your pet.

In terms of opportunity for fund disbursement, specific instructions, and a clear cut contingency plan if your initial named guardian or trustee doesn’t work out, the animal care trust is a superior estate planning tool for your pet.

That all being said, you DEFINITELY need a will as a part of your estate plan. It just that a separate animal care trust will best compliment the other estate planning documents for this particular and important part of your life.

Tail Wagging Trust

Share this infographic with fellow pet lovers, and let’s discuss how to structure your personalized animal care trust. Contact me via email or phone (515-371-6077) to get started!

george washington figurine

Happy Presidents Day! Even if you don’t have today off of work on this federal holiday, it’s a good day to think about the first and pretty incredible leader of the United States, George Washington. First recognized by Congress in 1885, the holiday was first celebrated on Washington’s birthday, February 22. Eventually, the day shifted to the third Monday in February after the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. Instead of celebrating by chopping down a cherry tree (just kidding, that’s a myth), consider the ways Washington’s own estate planning can inspire you to get your affairs in order.

“Human happiness and moral duty are inseparably connected.”

Washington Wrote His Own Will

Acknowledging Washington wrote his own will is probably a terrible point to start on, as I cannot encourage you to write your own estate plan. There are so many ways that this can go wrong from lacking requisite formalities, mistaking property laws, and risking the document being found entirely invalid. All of these errors can result in a situation that causes your loved ones heartache, confusion, and can maybe even lead to litigation. But, history is what it is.

Washington wrote his own will and dated it July 9, 1799, not long before his death on December 14 that same year. However, considering Washington was one of the wealthiest presidents of all time if he were living today, he would definitely want to enlist a team of professional advisors to make sure all of his assets were accounted for and passed on in a tax-strategic way.

Washington Made Two Wills

Washington was a smart man, clearly. He had, not just one, but two last will and testament documents! Of course, you don’t need and shouldn’t have two estate plans, but you should update your estate plan regularly when changes may affect your estate plan’s effectiveness or determine who you include as a beneficiary, executor, or guardian.

Washington was apparently on his deathbed when he asked his wife, Martha, to bring him both editions of his will. He had her burn one so the “real” one wasn’t competing against the other version. Again, it’s the principle that sometimes you need to make important changes to your plan that’s important here!

Washington Included His Charitable Goals

Washington left the entirety of his estate to his wife. However, he also wanted to benefit the causes he cared most about. Washington was concerned about American youth being sent to Europe for formal educations and wanted to benefit higher education institutions in the growing United States. He left 100 shares he held in a company called James River Co. to help, what ultimately became, Washington and Lee University. He also left 50 shares in a different company to endow a D.C. university (which never came to fruition).

Like Washington, you too can give to the charitable organizations and causes you care about by naming them in your estate plan as beneficiaries of certain amounts of money or of a certain percentage of your estate.

Washington Chose His Executors Wisely

Most folks I work with only choose one or two main executors of their estate plan, and then also name an alternate or two if the first choice doesn’t work out. Washington named a full seven executors to oversee that his wishes and dispersion of property was carried out. His executors included his grandson, five nephews, and his wife.

In Washington We Trust

Probate can take a long time, especially if you pass away intestate (without an estate plan). But Washington’s estate, unfortunately, took an excruciatingly long time to be completely settled. For reasons unknown, appraisal of the estate wasn’t filed with the court until 1810! And then, the estate was not fully closed until 1847. Yikes. If you would the majority or all of your estate to avoid probate, you may want to consider a trust of some sort.

Power to the People…To Make Their Wishes Known

As Washington said, “It is better to offer no excuse than a bad one.” Drop the estate planning excuses! You don’t need presidential power to make a quality estate plan that meets your goals. One of the easiest ways to get started with my free, no-obligation Estate Plan Questionnaire.

headphones and pink flowers

Speaking of the most romantic holiday of the year, I’ve really LOVED writing the #PlanningForLove series in the lead up to Valentine’s Day this year. We’ve been able to cover some super important aspects of an estate plan and how, oddly enough, estate planning is one of the ultimate expressions of love.

I have no doubts that after reading posts on how you can show love to your spouse, pets, and even yourself through estate planning you are ready to take the first step and fill out my (free) Estate Plan Questionnaire. Thinking about your estate’s executor, beneficiaries, and charitable bequests can only be made better with a special Gordon Fischer Law Firm Valentine’s playlist. (You can also check out my other estate planning-inspired playlist while you’re at it!)

What are your favorite love songs of all time I should add to this playlist? Let me know in the comments below. (Also, I apologize if “My Heart Will Go On” is now stuck in your head.) Want to discuss your estate planning options? Don’t hesitate to contact me via email or phone (515-371-6077).

bowl of heart candy

Thanks for reading the #GoFisch blog! Now through February 14 I’m sharing how flowers, jewelry, or chocolate are not the only gifts that say, “I love you.” While not explicitly romantic, a personalized, quality estate plan speaks to that lifelong consideration and care be it for your significant other, your children, or even simply yourself. 

Typical Valentine’s Day gifts usually come in the expected packaging—velvet or heart shaped-boxes topped with silky ribbons and complete with a red rose or a sappy card. But, an estate plan is not your typical Valentine’s present and therefore needs some special storage. You’re more than welcome to put a bow on the documents following the signing…finishing your estate plan is something worth celebrating! However, a gift bag won’t do for safely and securely protecting your estate plan.

I give my clients guidance on where to store their original estate plan documents because it should be both be kept private and safe, but should still be practical and accessible by those who need it such as your will’s executor or designated representative for financial matters. So, where specifically should your keep your original estate plan? There are a few different options.

In Your Home or Office

office space with flowers

When you think accessibility, the places you spend the majority of your time, such as your home or office, are going to be obvious choices. Some of my clients who’ve chosen this option even invested in a water- and fire-proof safe. (Of course, if you get a safe, folks who need to access the estate plan, such as a spouse or child, obviously need access to the lock combo!) In any case, put the plan in a spot that’s likely to be protected from flooding or fire. For example, a dark, dank basement may not be the best place to keep your original estate plan documents. However, in your home office, in your desk’s top locked drawer (assuming others have a key), would be a much better spot.

Caution: No Treasure Hunts

Some people think “hiding” their will is a solution to any security concerns. This, however, inhibits accessibility! Sure, people may not be able to find your will while you’re living, but that also means your loved ones are unlikely to find it when they need it in the case that you suddenly pass away or are incapacitated and cannot communicate where it is. This is problematic for multiple reasons. First, your wishes cannot formally be known and therefore not fulfilled, and if the document cannot be found, the presumption is you either did not make a plan or you intended to revoke/destroy it. In the case of your death, the court will then act as if you died “intestate,” or without a will. The long probate process will ensue, and after some substantial court fees, your estate will pass to your heirs-at-law as determined by state law. (Almost everyone I’ve ever met would have their estate pass according to their terms and not some impersonal law.)

Safety Deposit Box

 

I know many folks who keep their important documents like birth certificates and social security cards in their safety deposit box. And when it comes to your original estate plan documents, your safety deposit box is a good option. Except, and this is hugely important, the safety deposit box must be readily accessible by executors, agents, and other fiduciaries. This requires making sure that your bank or credit union has the “right people on file.” Also, don’t assume that just because both you and your spouse have access to the safety deposit box, that is sufficient. What if there’s a joint accident or joint disaster and you’re both incapacitated? Sit down and talk with your bank or credit union to make absolutely certain those who need access to the safety deposit box will definitely have access in case of an emergency. Otherwise, a court order may be required before your financial institution will grant access, which equates to more bureaucratic hold-ups costing time, money, and even worse, adding additional stress for loved ones.

safety deposit box

 With Your Designated Representative

So far, we’ve been talking about your original estate plan documents (with “wet” signatures). An original is always better than a copy. But a copy is better than nothing.  Consider giving a copy of your estate plan to the executor of your will or successor trustee of your revocable living trust, and other named fiduciaries.

The person you designate as your personal representative has the important job of settling your estate and they will need to be armed with your estate plan in order to reference your wishes and provide proof that they are authorized to take certain actions. This option makes a lot of sense considering this representative will have immediate cause to reference the paperwork following your death.

two people drinking tea

Up in the Cloud

I always recommend you retain a paper copy of your original estate plan, but there are many valid and secure options of also storing your key documents in the digital cloud. Like any financial, health, or other personal information accessible online, make certain you have a strong password and security. And, just like a paper version, at least your executor and other designated representatives will need to be able to access the plan when necessary. Whether that’s through an online beneficiary designation or by allocating the password to your executor or another trusted custodian, that’s up to you.

To recap: an estate plan can make a wonderful Valentine’s Day gift that shows love and commitment to your favorite people. And, since you spent time, effort, and money to create an estate plan that meets your goals, it’s essential to keep it in proper storage. Remember: if no one knows you created a plan or no one has access to it, it’s as if you never had one at all.

Before you can store your estate plan, you NEED an estate plan! The best place to get started is with my Estate Plan Questionnaire, or contact me.

cute puppy

In the lead up to Valentine’s Day, I’m exploring here on the blog how love can translate to estate planning. Thus far we’ve covered the best V-Day gift to give your spouse, advice on where to store your estate plan (and it’s not a chocolate heart box!), and how an affinity for football makes understanding estate planning easy. Romance and gift guides aside, this #PlanningForLove series would be incomplete without featuring the love for your pet.

Let’s be for real for a minute. The relationships we have with our pet(s), be they a dog, cat, amphibian, pocket piglet, parrot, or pony are some of the most comforting and consistent. Who else will lick your face, eat snacks out of your hand, demand belly rubs, or get the most Instagram likes? Our pets are a part of our family and it only makes sense to include them in estate planning documents and decisions concerned with the continued care for our loved ones.

cat with flowers

The best way to include your furry and feathered friends in your estate plan is with an animal care trust (sometimes known as a pet trust). This is a special kind of trust different from a living revocable trust or an inter vivos trust. An animal care trust specifically provides for the care of your pet in the event that something were to happen to you. In the trust you’ll likely want include the following information:

  • Sufficiently identify your pets and include a provision that describes your pets as a class through phrasing such as  “the pet(s) owned by me at the time of my death or disability.”
  • Describe your pet’s standard of living, care, and include any regular and special instructions. You can get as specific or general as you want at this point. For example, if your bird only likes a particular brand/type of food, or your dog thrives when she plays catch once a day, this can be specified in a trust agreement. If you want your pet to visit the veterinarian for check-ups three times a year, this can also be written in.
  • Determine the amount of funding that’s needed to adequately cover the expenses for your pet’s care. Generally, this figure can’t exceed what may reasonably be required given your pet’s standard of living.
  • Designate a trustee, caregiver, and remainder beneficiary. Also, designate successor trustees and caregivers if for some reason either becomes unable or unwilling to fulfill their role. The remainder beneficiary is who receives the trust assets if trust funding outlives the beneficiary (your pet).
  • Specify how the funding should be distributed to the caregiver from the trust.
  • Provide instructions and wishes for the final disposition of your pet (for example, via burial or cremation).

Check out and feel free to share this infographic with your fellow pet parents. (Click here to see the pdf version.)

gordon fischer law firm animal care trust

Valentine’s Day is coming up, so let’s discuss how to show your continued love for your pets, even if something unexpected were to happen to you. Contact me via email or phone (515-371-6077).

neon LOVE

One major 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 wishes regarding what’s to be done with the physical body after death. One of the six main documents a 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 aspects. You may be as specific or as general as you wish.

If you’ve ever had someone close to you die and have been tasked with making arrangements for the wake, funeral, and burial or cremation (or otherwise), you know it can be difficult. Not only are you dealing with heartache and grief of losing that loved one, but now you’re also dealing 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 headache on top of the inevitable heartache. The ambiguity surrounding final remains can lead to fighting between family members if they disagree over what would be best. That’s why 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, conclusive. Indeed, this is about what you ultimately want to be done with your physical body following death and can 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. You may also detail if you wish, 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.

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) 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 Act also allows for alternate designees to be named in the event the primary designee is unable to act. The Declaration is not allowed to include directives for final disposition of remains and arrangements for ceremonies planned after death.

If something were to happen to you without a disposition of final remains document in place, the surviving spouse (if there is one) assumes the role as designee. If there is no surviving spouse, then the designee role passes to any surviving children. If there are no surviving children then the role would pass to the parents of the decedent, then grandchildren, surviving siblings, and finally surviving grandparents.

Can I Change My Mind?

Your wishes may change over time and that’s OK because the disposition of final remains is revocable. That means you can change your designee if one 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?

Because the disposition of final remains document is a key part of your estate plan, it’s best to get started with 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).