this week calendar

Believe it or not, National Estate Planning Awareness Week is a very real thing and we’re celebrating October 15-21! Let’s kick it off with a brief history on the Week and estate planning in general.

Background on National Estate Planning Awareness Week

National Estate Planning Awareness Week was an effort spearheaded by the National Association of Estate Planners & Councils (NAEPC) and Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA) (with 49 other Representatives on board).  In September 2008, Congress passed H. Res. 1499 which designated the third week in October as a week for assisting the public in understanding the importance and benefits of estate planning, as well as how to assemble a qualified team of experts to assist in the process.

In general, it’s in the best interest of society when the transfer of wealth and property is as seamless and as close to the decedent’s intent as possible. That’s where estate planning comes in and why it’s so essential.

Sure, you won’t see decorations for sale for National Estate Planning Awareness Week…but, you can still celebrate by discussing your estate planning needs and goals with a qualified, experienced estate planning attorney. This goes for your first (much needed) estate plan, but also revisions on existing estate plans. (Remember, estate plans never expire!)

Time Warp: A Brief History of Estate Planning

For as long as people have had property, that property has been distributed or passed along in some manner or another. In early cultures property was considered to be owned collectively by a family or tribe and when a leader of the group perished the assets were divided in accordance with family/tribal customs.

Estate planning was apparent in ancient Rome under the Code of Justinian which recognized oral and written wills that were approved by a public official. In the Anglo-Saxon period of England, royalty had to approve land transfers. That changed in the 12th century when property would automatically pass to the eldest son. Under English law, the Statute of Wills was established in the 16th century which allowed landowner to pass along their land as they wished, whether that was to the eldest or not.

Current state intestacy laws are a modern iteration of British common law in which property inheritance passed to the spouse and children in pre-defined percentages.

Unfortunately, women were often excluded entirely from estate planning; assets were only distributed amongst male heirs at law and women were disinherited. At certain points throughout history, women (such as a wife or daughter) could be provided for through a trust upon the death of the husband/father, but often that trust was dissolved if/when the woman married/remarried. Thankfully policy and society progressed, and now women and men have equal right to inheritance and ability to convey assets.

To that point, the individual American citizen of today has the freedom to plan for distribution of property as wished without approval needed or mandate defining who can and cannot be a beneficiary.

Estate Planning in the United States

 

Statue of Liberty

In U.S. history estate planning has been intricately linked with estate taxes because estate planning techniques are tools to reduce or even eliminate the Federal estate tax. To understand that in full you could go all the way back to the Stamp Act of 1797, where a tax was passed to fund the Navy in an “undeclared war with France.” The estate tax was subsequently abolished and then reinstated with corresponding wars including the Civil War and Spanish American War.

The estate tax, more or less as we think of it today, was instituted in association with World War I in 1916. To bypass this, people would gift parts of their estates to their families to which the lawmakers responded to by passing a gift tax in 1924. It was briefly repealed and then re-enacted in 1932 and remained that way until 1976 when the gift and estate tax were consolidated.

In modern political history the estate tax has seen a few major changes; it was entirely revoked in the 2010 calendar year after 2001 legislation phased out the tax. However, that didn’t last long. The Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010 meant a return of the estate tax, but raised the exclusion to $5 million for 2011 and 2012. Then came the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 which kept the $5 million inflation-adjusted exclusion figure, but increased the maximum rate of the tax to 40 percent from 35 percent. In 2018, the exclusion rate sits at $11.18 million per individual. This means an individual can leave $11.18 million to heirs and pay no federal estate or gift tax. Married couples get an exclusion for each spouse, so a couple can leave up to $22.36 to their heirs and IRS won’t collect estate tax on it.

Final Footnote

All of this history is to say that estate planning, in some form or another, has been an important aspect of societies in the world for a long time. Regardless of the size of your estate, and just like the ancient Romans or Americans of the early 1900s, you want to pass along your assets to the people you care about and want to provide for. Claim your right to distribute your property in accordance with your wishes by ensuring you have an up-to-date, quality estate plan. The best way to get started is with my free (and no obligation) Estate Plan Questionnaire. It’s a great tool for organizing all the important information you and your estate planner need to know when creating your custom estate plan.


This is the first of a week’s worth of articles all dedicated to the topic of estate planning as a part of National Estate Planning Awareness Week. Want to discuss your estate plan or talk about the history of the estate tax? Don’t hesitate to contact me.

events on calendar

Halloween and Thanksgiving aren’t the only things you should be looking forward to in October and November! I like to help spread the word about all the awesome events, awards, and grants available in Iowa. There are so many great opportunities for nonprofit pros, board members, volunteers, and donors, that range from webinars to workshops. But, life is busy, and it can be hard to keep track of what you should register for or put on your calendar. That’s why I compiled a list for your convenience!

Learning Events & Trainings

Grants

There are so many great events and opportunities for nonprofits and the people that advance them that there is no doubt I missed some in the list above. Please feel free to add applicable events for October and November in the comments below! If you would like to notify GFLF of any upcoming nonprofit-focused events and opportunities in the coming months, don’t hesitate to email GFLF’s Chief Content Officer at mackensie@gordonfischerlawfirm.com.

I would love to meet you this Friday at the Falls Prevention Awareness, Health & Resource Fair where I’ll have a table full of valuable estate planning information and time to get to know you and hear your about your goals for the future! The Fair will start at 10 a.m. and go until 1 p.m. Friday, September 21 at the Radisson Hotel and Conference Center (1220 1st Avenue, Coralville, IA).

This event is sponsored by the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics Trauma Program, the Visiting Nurse Association, Johnson County Livable Communities, and partially funded by The Community Foundation of Johnson County.

The free event is open to the public and includes the chance to win one of five door prizes!

Fall Prevention Fair

Planning to attend? Tell me in the comments below! Can’t make it? Don’t worry! I’m always available to assist with your estate planning needs from start to finish. Contact me via email (gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com) or by phone (515-371-6077). Plus, I offer a free one-hour consultation!

We the people close up

We’re headed “back to school” on the blog this month, and I couldn’t pass up today’s fantastic excuse for a short American history lesson!

Fourth of July gets all the attention for red, white, and blue pride, but Constitution Day is a lesser-known, but still important reason to celebrate America’s values of freedom, democracy, and liberty. Constitution Day commemorates the formation and signing of the U.S. Constitution on September 17, 1787. The Constitution was signed in Pennsylvania at the Constitutional Convention by 39 men including Alexander Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, and George Washington.

Mount Rushmore

There’s a wealth of American history I encourage you to explore to understand in full the lead-up of events that led to the execution of the Constitution. TIME wrote a great piece and the National Archives offers up some great information.

Constitution Day also stands to recognize everyone who has become an American citizen. According to USCIS, more than 260 naturalization ceremonies were held across the nation as part of this year’s Constitution Week. In fact, before 2004, the day was called Citizenship Day.

Statute of Liberty

For me, the Constitution represents one of the most important legal foundations, on which the world’s oldest constitutional republic is build. That said, we must never forget the privilege it grants us and the duty we all have as citizens to protect it through civic engagement and knowledge. What does Constitution Day mean to you? Tell me in the comments below!

“The strength of the Constitution lies entirely in the determination of each citizen to defend it. Only if every single citizen feels duty bound to do his share in this defense are the constitutional rights secure.”
― Albert Einstein

While it’s not the Constitution, your estate plan is similar in the way that it’s a guiding document that guides people in the future as to your goals and intentions for your property, body, charitable giving, and what you want to happen with the people and pets you care for. So, you can think of yourself as a “founding father” of the legacy you want to leave. Ready to put your “John Hancock” on an estate plan? Get started with my free Estate Plan Questionnaire or contact me.

two people holding hands on white background
I make it a goal to regularly share public events in the community related to GFLF’s core services. Seize the day and mark your calendar for CARTHA‘s Dying-Well Dialogues, on September 18, 2018 from 7-9 p.m. at the University Club in Iowa City. The event is free and open to the public.
Cartha Logo
The conversation at the event will center on coping skills and raising awareness about the challenges faced by patients, families, and caregivers during the end-of-life phase in both Iowa and India. A moderated dialogue will take place between physicians, academics, practitioners, and community volunteers.
Undoubtedly these conversations tie in to your estate planning decisions, including what you want outlined in your disposition of final remains document. This dialogue may also help you have your own important conversations with your family to share your wishes for the future.
Dr. M.R. Rajagopal, who is considered the father of the palliative care/hospice movement in India, will be the featured speaker. Plus, Dr. Anne Broderick of the Iowa City VA will deliver the speaker introduction. The evening will also feature desserts, music, and poetry.
Multiple community groups came together to lend support to the event, including Iowa City Hospice, The Bird House, and India Association of Iowa City Area, among others. Additional information can be found on the event flyer.
Interested in attending? Please RSVP to Usha Balakrish at usha.iowa@gmail.com or call/text 319-331-8103.
Dog in dog house

When you own a dog, every day is a celebration of your furry friend…except maybe when they leave a stain on the new carpet. But, in general, dogs are simply the best friend a human could ask for. They never flake on you, are always there for snuggles, clean up any spilled food under the table, and don’t judge when you drink a bottle of wine while watching sappy romantic comedies.

Today is National Dog Day, and 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 doggo 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 establish, but can make a world of difference for you canine 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 dog 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 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 is 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 an 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 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 dog 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 dog, Spot.

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: Spot eat X certain kind of dog food and should be taken to a dog park at least two times a month. 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 dog.

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 dog.

That all being said, you DEFINITELY need a will as a part of your estate plan. It just doesn’t fully protect your pet’s interests as you may want to.

Tail Wagging Trust

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

red chairs in conference room

Undoubtedly knowledge is power when it comes to understanding how different laws directly affect you. Indeed, living in a modern society mean that an interplay of laws govern pretty much every aspect of our lives in one way or another—even when it comes to death. That’s why I’m dedicated to breaking down terms (like in my “legal word of the day” series) and explaining processes (like how to form a 501(c)(3) in Iowa) related to GFLF’s core services. Because even if you’re not an attorney, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t/can’t learn about the interplay of different laws  Similarly, I think it’s important to get the word out about events in the community that can help grow knowledge on important topics like estate planning.

The Iowa State Bar Association (ISBA) announced they’re producing a seminar series called the “People’s Law School.” The first public information event will focus on three super important estate planning elements:

While the seminar is being billed as one for “older Iowan issues,” I have to remind that everyone needs an estate plan! Even young professionals and definitely married couples. Definitely people with kids and people with pets! Even college students can benefit from putting a power of attorney in place. And, especially working and middle-class folks need a up-to-date estate plan.

At the seminar, attendees can have a living will or medical power of attorney form notarized at the event if they bring their completed documents.

The session will be held 5:30-7 p.m. on September 19 at the ISBA Headquarters in Des Moines. Interested? You can register online here.

According to their website, the ISBA will “identify other topics of public interest and host similar seminars in the future,” so be on the look out for other upcoming opportunities to learn more about the law as a part of your life.

If you’ve dropped all the excuses and committed to making your estate plan happen, that’s great! It’s easy to get started with my free Estate Plan Questionnaire. Questions or want to discuss your estate? Don’t hesitate to contact me via email or by phone at 515-371-6077.

calendar on desk

Beyond my own information and resources I love offering Iowa nonprofits for free (like this board responsibilities handout or this nonprofit formation guide), I like to call attention to all the awesome events, awards, and grants available. There are so many great opportunities for Iowan nonprofit pros, board members, volunteers, and donors, that range from conferences to workshops, and grant applications to award nominations. But, life is busy, and it can be hard to keep track of what you should register for or put on your calendar. That’s why I compiled a list for your convenience:

Learning Events & Trainings

Awards

  • The AARP is accepting nominations for the 2018 Andrus Award for Community Service. AARP’s most-prestigious volunteer tribute recognizes outstanding individuals who are sharing their experience, talents and skills to enrich the lives of others.
    Nominations are due August 10.

Grants

  • Storey Kenworthy Foundation for Giving is accepting grant applications for five $5000 awards. The scope of giving priorities includes: “Honoring our Heroes, Medical Research and Support, Children & Education.” Application period available through August 31.
  • Nonprofits that on families, education or the environment are invited to apply for a grant from the Alliant Energy Foundation. Applications are accepted through September 1.
  •  Tourism-related entities (including nonprofits) based in Iowa can apply for the Iowa Tourism Grant Program. Awards range from $500 to $5,000 and require a 25% cash match. There is $150,000 available for the fiscal year 2019 grant cycle. Applications are due September 12.
  • The Mortimer & Mimi Levitt Foundation launching a grant opportunity for small to mid-sized towns and cities. Up to 15 grantees will be awarded $25,000 each in matching funds to produce their own free outdoor concert series. The prospective series should feature a diverse line-up of quality entertainment for people of different ages and backgrounds. Finalists are chosen through online public voting. Grant applications are due by September 25.

hands on phone with calendar app

There are so many great events and opportunities for nonprofits that there is no doubt I missed some in the list above. Please feel free to add applicable events for August and September in the comments below! If you would like to notify GFLF of any upcoming nonprofit-focused events and opportunities in the coming months, don’t hesitate to email GFLF’s Chief Content Officer at mackensie@gordonfischerlawfirm.com.

August includes it’s fair share of obscure “holidays” including National Catfish Month, Friendship Week, and Bad Poetry Day. This month is also your chance to celebrate National Make-A-Will Month! (Yes, seriously. This is a thing.) I recommend celebrating this quite literal month by creating an estate plan. A will is one of six key documents in a quality, individualized estate plan. (If you were to elect to make a living revocable trust a part of your plan, then you would still need a will—often referred to as a pour-over will—it would just read a little different!)

national make-a-will month

Depending on your personal/family situation and assets, a will can be a bit more complicated and longer in page length than the other estate plan documents. It’s important you work with a lawyer experienced in estate planning to be sure your will covers the three major questions of:

  1. Who do you want to be the executor of your will? The executor is in charge of carrying out your directions and wishes as expressed in the will. They will also pay any outstanding debts and distribute assets as you express in the document.
  2. Who do you want to be the legal guardians for your minor children until they’re adults (age 18), if something were happen to you?
  3. What do you want done with both your tangible and intangible property? (An example of tangible property is your books or your boat. Intangible property includes assets like stocks.)

Yet another reason to work with a professional estate planner to craft a will is to avoid costly mistakes and to legitimately donate to your favorite charities.

Why Does a Will Matter?

I cannot reinforce enough that everyone NEEDS a will. Leaving your family and friends without a clearly written will in place can result in worst case scenarios such as litigation or confusion in who is to be the proper guardian of your minor child(ren). Real world examples of this are unfortunately all too common and no one is immune. For instance, Prince died without a will leaving family infighting and conflict.

Without a will the Iowa probate court is forced to name an executor and there is the possibility that the appointed executor is not who you would have chosen. It’s simply better not to gamble with who has control over dispersing your hard earned assets.

Regular Revisions

If you already have a will (and other necessary estate planning documents) congrats! You’re better prepared for the inevitable than about half of Americans. Yet, just because you created an estate plan at one point doesn’t mean it automatically adapts to how your life changes.

While estate plans never expire, for your will to be most effective it needs to be reviewed at least annually and updated as needed. Common scenarios for estate plan revisions can be a death in the family, change in marriage status, birth of a child, major changes in financial situation, and moving out of state.

Your estate plan should also be updated if your goals change over time. For example, you may want to alter the amounts of inheritance or increase/decrease charitable bequests.

Where There’s a Will There’s a Way

I would love to help you solidify your family’s future, help you achieve peace of mind, and celebrate Make-A-Will Month in the best way you can! 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 that gets you thinking and planning. You can also contact me at any time via email (Gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com) or phone 515-371-6077.

people around table and computer

An opportunity for Iowa small business owners came across my desk that I want to share with as many people as possible!

The Small Business Administration (SBA) Office of Advocacy is hosting a series of free, public roundtables across the U.S. They have three upcoming opportunities for Iowans.SBA Office of Advocacy

The schedule is as follows:

Council Bluffs, IA – Tuesday, July 17

Time: 8:30 AM – 12:30 PM CDT

Location: Mid-America Center, 1 Arena Way, Council Bluffs, IA 51501

Link to register

West Des Moines, IA – Wednesday, July 18

Time: 8:30 AM – 12:30 PM CDT

Location: Drury Inn & Suites West Des Moines, 5505 Mills Civic Parkway, West Des Moines, IA 50266

Link to register

Dubuque, IA – Thursday, July 19

Time: 8:30 AM – 12:30 PM CDT

Location: Holiday Inn Dubuque/Galena, 450 Main St., Dubuque, IA 52001

Link to register

What’s the purpose of these roundtables?

The Regional Regulatory Reform Roundtables will be a chance for small business owners and operators to share their regulation concerns with SBA Office of Advocacy senior staff.

As stated by the SBA Office of Advocacy, the Regional Regulatory Reform Roundtables will have the following goals:

  1. Identify regional small business regulatory issues in order to assist agencies with regulatory reform and reduction in compliance with Executive Orders 13771 & 13777;
  2. Compile crucial information for Advocacy’s new report on existing small business regulatory burdens across the nation, identifying specific recommendations for regulatory changes based upon first-hand accounts from small businesses across the country; and
  3. Inform and educate the small business public as to how Advocacy and SBA can assist them with their small business goals

What is the SBA Office of Advocacy?

The SBA Office of Advocacy is an independent office that wears many hats in representing the needs and concerns of U.S. small businesses before the federal government, judicial system, and in working with state policymakers. For instance, the Office serves as a source of small business statistics and acts as a watchdog for the Regulatory Flexibility Act.

What does GFLF have to do with small business owners?

Beyond passing along events and opportunities such as this, Gordon Fischer Law Firm works with Iowa business owners to help them put in place sound succession and estate plans. Whether it’s a tax-exempt or for-profit, GFLF can help leaders of Iowa entities ensure their operations are set-up for success in the future.

Questions? Comments? Don’t hesitate to contact GFLF.