Marting Luther King Jr. and American Flag

Martin Luther King Jr. Day is tomorrow (January 20) I think it’s important to pay tribute to a man who truly championed ideals of equity, freedom, peace, and justice. Among his many accomplishments, Dr. King tirelessly pushed for nonviolent activism and peaceful resolution to human rights issues. He reportedly wrote five books and gave hundreds of speeches in a single year…more than most of us could produce in a lifetime. And, there’s no doubt that he was a key player and influencer in the passage of the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964. Dr. King was subsequently was awarded one of the highest honors in the world in 1964—the Nobel Peace Prize—for “his dynamic leadership of the Civil Rights movement and steadfast commitment to achieving racial justice through nonviolent action.” (He donated the prize money, $54,123, back to the civil rights movement.)

Dr. King and his lasting legacy can undoubtedly serve as an inspiration to us all. I see his dream of a better world—a better future for all—exemplified in action by the hardworking Iowa-based nonprofit organizations. I also see his lessons being practiced by the wonderful donors who support these organizations and advance their missions.

So, yes, it’s nice to have a day off of work, but make certain the day doesn’t pass you by without setting a plan in place to perform some form of service for others.

Dr. King tirelessly pursued the advancement of human rights for the greater good and we can honor him by practicing forms of charitable giving as a way to advance our communities. Be it through volunteering time to an organization that speaks to your heart (remember, certain costs associated with volunteer can be tax deductible), setting up a donor-advised fund, or simply writing a list of the nonprofits you would like to include as beneficiaries in your will, you too can set out on an honorable service-oriented path and inspire your friends, family, and colleagues to follow suit.

MLK Jr. Day Quote

Dr. King’s lessons resonate with our hearts and heads because we too have dreams of making our corners of the world a better place to learn, live, and grow through service. Maybe Dr. King’s commitment to “practice what you preach” mentality has inspired you this year to give charitably more and more often. Maybe you considered his question, “What’s your life’s blueprint?” and decided to form the charity you’ve wanted to establish for a long time. Either way, don’t hesitate to contact me for a free consultation. As Dr. King said: “The time is always right to do what is right.”

footballs on wall

Turn on ESPN, put on your jersey, and stock with fridge with a cold beverage…the College Football Playoff National Championship is this Monday, January 13, 2020. (The game kicks off at 8 p.m.) While reading up on the stats and predictions for a tiger showdown between the LSU Tigers and Clemson Tigers in New Orleans’ Mercedes-Benz Superdome, I couldn’t help but make a connection with estate planning. Goalposts to estate planning goals may seem like a stretch, but hear me out.

 

Football is a complex game—the field is full of moving parts and competing strategies; it’s a game of inches where just a few missteps or right moves can make a huge difference. Estate planning works the same way. Here are just five of the surprising similarities between estate planning and the game of football:

1. Your Clock Will Indeed Run Out

Just like every football season eventually comes to an end, your (hopefully long and healthy) season will also come to a close. When it does, you need a special kind of playbook for the rest of your team…AKA an estate plan. In this analogy, an experienced lawyer is a great coach who is going to help you put plans in place for when the game changes unexpectedly or the stadium lights turn off for the last time. And, just like so much can change over the course of a season, a lot will happen over the course of your lifetime. That’s where annual reviews and revisions after significant events fit in.

While it is often difficult for people to ponder their unavoidable exit off their own fictitious field, preparation for what happens after your season is over can be one of the most comforting aspects of financial and legal planning.

2. The Main Players

Let’s take this analogy a bit further and put some estate planning terms into football speak.

Estate – An estate is a whole playbook, containing the following documents: your will; health care power of attorney; financial power of attorney; disposition of personal property; and final disposition of remains. (Click on the link preview below to delve deeper.)

Will – A will deals primarily with the distribution of assets and care for minor children. You need to make certain the will is well-drafted, solid, and can stand up in court. Keep in mind though, important assets such as life insurance policy payouts, retirement assets, and investment accounts may well contain beneficiary designations that trump your will.

Trust – You have lots of different options with this player. A trust can dictate how your assets will be dispersed, the timeline and manner in which they are dispersed, and who’s overseeing the process.

3. You Must Make Mid-Season Starting Lineup Adjustments

Just as a coach may switch up who’s starting partway through the season, you may need to make adjustments to your estate plan as things inevitably change over the course of your life. Big events like marriage, birth of a child/grandchild, moving to a different state, a large change in financial status, divorce, and other significant changes are a good reason to review your “playbook.”

4. No ‘I’ in Team

Your loved ones and close friends are all a part of your team; part of being a strong team player is including them on the plays you’re making. Discuss important aspects of your estate plan with the people it involves to avoid any confusion or conflict when it comes times for them to carry out your wishes. For instance, if you have minor children (under age 18) you’re going to want to establish legal guardianship if the worst happens and you’re no longer around to care for them. You’ll want to discuss with your chosen guardians ahead of time to make sure they’re willing and available to carry out the responsibility.

5. Final Score

football on field

 

There are probably at least a few more good football analogies I could tie into the conversation of why you need an estate plan, but the most important takeaway is that you never know when the game is going to change. So, you need to have your “playbook” written out ASAP. The best place to start is with my free, no-obligation Estate Plan Questionnaire. You can also shoot me an email or give me a call at 515-371-6077 to discuss your situation (or football).

#GivingTuesday world

The mission of Gordon Fischer Law Firm is to maximize charitable giving in Iowa. To that end I work with nonprofits on legal compliance and training for accepting gifts (especially complex ones) as well as the donors who want to give to their favorite organizations and causes. Small Business Saturday is great for the community and Cyber Monday is fun, but the post-Thanksgiving “day” I look forward to the most is #GivingTuesday.

Created by the Belfer Center for Innovation & Social Impact at the 92nd Street Y in New York, along with the United Nations Foundation, in 2012, #GivingTuesday is a celebration for support of philanthropy and giving. Social media has helped grow the event into a global occasion, connecting countries, organizations, and donors around the world.

Giving Tuesday takes place mid holiday season and is a great opportunity to spread awareness of nonprofits midst holiday cheer. Whether you’re prepping your nonprofit’s activities, messaging, and events for #GivingTuesday or are a donor preparing to give (and encourage others to do the same) let’s take a look at some stats from last year (2018) that show the enormous impact #GivingTuesday has.

  •  Faith-based charities received the largest sector percentage of #GivingTuesday donations made online.
  • At $125 million Facebook was the largest payment processing platform.
  • $3.6 million of Giving Tuesday donations were made online and 17% of all views of online donation forms were made on a mobile device
  • $380 million was given total (which was a 45% increase over 2017)
  • More than 150 countries participated
  • Since 2012, Giving Tuesday has raised more than $1 billion in the U.S.

All year, not just on #GivingTuesday, GFLF is thrilled to work with nonprofit organizations on elements of operations including, but certainly not limited to;

If your nonprofit is interested in any such services, I offer a free consultation!

#GivingTuesday is a reminder that, against the backdrop of the “busy” of the holiday season, the spirit of giving is thriving. Want to chat about charitable giving? Reach out anytime by email or phone (515-371-6077)

thanksgiving thankful

I would like to wish you a very happy Thanksgiving. I hope that you have the opportunity to spend quality time with your loved ones. I’ve taken a much needed moment this holiday to take a step back and think about all GFLF has to be thankful for. I owe so much to my clients, friends, and family who have helped make this year a successful one.

grateful quote

Here are just a few of the things GFLF has to be exceedingly grateful for:

But, really, this is a short list—the tip of the turkey, if you will—of what GFLF is perpetually thankful for.

Wishing you full bellies and hearts today,

Gordon Fischer

Giving Tuesday How Will You Get

Giving Tuesday is held the Tuesday after Thanksgiving (December 3 this year) and is an important day for nonprofits to reach out to current and potential donors. Scroll through your social media feeds with the hashtag #givingtuesday and it seems like every organization, from big to small, is running digital marketing campaigns related to the day. Unlike Black Friday’s lines outside of stores in the middle of the night, #GivingTuesday’s activity is largely social media based. For nonprofits, all of this online activity is typically directed to online giving portals.

These online giving pages facilitate easy charitable giving, but before you send inspired donors to your giving portal, it’s wise to ensure your organization is compliant with associated legal issues. Whether you have created your own donation platform or are using a third-party platform embedded on your site, make sure to follow these legal tips:

Donation Receipt

It’s important to offer a donation receipt to your donors, so they make take the charitable contribution deduction on 2018 taxes if they choose so. A proper receipt—whether in a generated pdf, email, mailed letter, or other printed/printable form—should state the donor’s name, date of the contribution, and amount given.

If the donation is greater than $250 a written statement should be obtained stating that the organization did not give any services or goods. If the charity does, in fact, give goods or services to the donor in return for a donation, the acknowledgment should describe what was given and provide an estimate of value of the goods or services.

If those goods and services provided are valued greater than $75, the written statement must also specify the amount of the donation that is tax-deductible. (This figure is the amount of money that exceeded the value of the goods or services exchanged by the charity.)

You want to make certain your communications (such as written acknowledgments and receipts) with donors meet all legal requirements, as just discussed. But that doesn’t mean you can’t also have some fun with these communications, or use them as an opportunity to stick out above the noise with creativity. Here are a couple of solid articles, from The Balance and CauseVox featuring ideas for upgrading your thank you’s to donors.

Online Charitable Solicitations

Fundraising activities fall under state law, and many states require charities (as well as individuals hired to assist the nonprofit with fundraising) to register with that state BEFORE any donations are solicited from residents of said state.

A charitable solicitation can be considered anything from a YouTube video with a call to action to donate, an e-newsletter sent to a subscriber list, to a simple Facebook post (and everything in between). Obviously, online giving has made figuring out which states your organization needs to register with complicated. Case in point, your organization may operate and be registered in Iowa, but if you have a “donate” button on your website, donations could come from residents of any state (or any country for that matter). Even the presence of a donation button could subject an organization to a registration requirement in some states, but won’t in other states. (Charitable solicitation registration is not currently required in Iowa.)

The main policy guidance for state regulators on this matter was published in 2001 by the National Association of State Charity Officials (NASCO), called the Charleston Principles. But, these provisions aren’t law, merely suggestive, so how should your charity deal with online donations? It’s far better for the organization to be safe rather than found noncompliant which can involve costly penalties.

Harbor Compliance Charitable Registration

Harbor Compliance | Charitable Registration

Nonprofits accepting online donations have two main approaches, according to the white paper, “Guidance for Compliance with State Charitable Solicitation Registration Requirements,” published by Harbor Compliance and the National Council for Nonprofits.

  1. Your charity could register (or file for an exemption) in all 41 states that require such registration, but that can be costly. The total fees to register your charity in all those states can range up to $5,000, (and that doesn’t even include professional fees you may need to incur, like paying lawyers or CPAs).
  2. A second option is to register only with states that require registration and from which you would reasonably expect donations. For instance, if your nonprofit operates in Iowa, depending on your fundraising activities, it could be reasonable to expect donations from residents of neighboring states such as Minnesota. Or, if a significant percentage of subscribers to your e-newsletter is from Illinois, it’s smart to register there. With this option, it’s important to note that if you do receive a contribution from residents of another state that requires registration that triggers the need to register with that state.

Either way, it’s a good idea to look into the Unified Registration Statement (URS), a consolidated multi-state registration form. It’s also important to remember not only the initial registration but also registration renewals (complete with deadlines and late fees).

Crowdfunding Considerations

Crowdfunding is anticipated to be a $90-96 billion dollar industry by 2025, and there are more and more nonprofits utilizing it as a tool within the fundraising mix. If your charity is using a crowdfunding site (Kickstarter and Indiegogo are both popular platforms) the charitable solicitation registration requirements covered above apply. But, this is also a good subject to broach the topic of fraud and misrepresentation because crowdfunding has opened the door to more people being involved. Charitable organizations are prohibited from engaging in fraud, using deceptive practices that are likely to create confusion, and misrepresenting the nature, purpose, or beneficiary of the charitable solicitation. This one’s a biggie because committing fraud or misrepresentation could mean a lengthy and expensive litigation process.

To avoid this risk it’s wise to have a vetted gift acceptance policy with clear guidelines regarding crowdfunding. Organizations should keep an eagle eye on fraudulent crowdfunding campaigns that may use the nonprofit as a beneficiary, but fail to ever actually donate funds. Yet, if dedicated volunteers and donors do want to crowdfund for you, that’s fantastic. The organization just needs to keep a close watch on the campaign’s operation and offer crystal clear guidance on what campaigning on behalf of the charity is acceptable and what is not.

A day when the world comes together


#GivingTuesday is coming up quick (where did the year go?!), so now’s the time to double check any potential issues for noncompliance that could occur. If you have any questions with regard to your online donation compliance I would love to offer a free one-hour consultation. Contact me via email or on my cell phone (515-371-6077). Best of luck with your #GivingTuesday campaigns!

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.).
woman tossing leaves in air

With its feast of turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes, Thanksgiving is the obvious holiday to look forward to in November. But the overall focus of Thanksgiving—the concepts of giving, sharing, practicing gratitude—is something you can cultivate for the entire month of November, especially on the lesser-known “holidays” of National Philanthropy Day and Giving Tuesday(technically in December this year).

National Philanthropy Day

National Philanthropy Day

On November 15 plan to celebrate National Philanthropy Day (NPD) with a donation of time or funding to a cause that’s near and dear to your heart. No matter how much you’re able to give, the point of this day to recognize that charitable donors and volunteers make a significant difference and impact. As the Association of Fundraising Professionals puts it:

“NPD is a celebration of philanthropy—giving, volunteering and charitable engagement—that highlights the accomplishments, large and small, that philanthropy—and all those involved in the philanthropic process—makes to our society and our world.”

A man by the name of Douglas Freeman conceptualized and organized the initial (unofficial) National Philanthropy Day in the early 1980s. Then in 1986, President Ronald Reagan designated NPD as an official day. NPD is also a key event a part of a grassroots movement that intends to raise awareness and interest for the importance of effective philanthropy.

Giving Tuesday

Giving Tuesday

Popular on and spurred forward through social media, Giving Tuesday is often found with an accompanying hashtag (#GivingTuesday). Billed as a “global giving movement” Giving Tuesday is the Tuesday after Thanksgiving and after the shopping sprees of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Held on December 3 this year, it’s seen as the sort of kickoff to end-of-year giving and it’s encouraged you donate your time, monetary donation, or even just your voice and ideas to a charity/cause that you care for.


With giving top of mind in November, maybe you have an idea for how you would like to support the important charities you care about but are unsure of how to go about making certain donations. For instance, did you know you can give to charity through your estate plan? How about the immense benefits of the retained life estate? How does giving fit in with your retirement benefit plan? I’m happy to help. Email me at gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com or drop me a line at 515-371-6077.

giving tuesday 2019

After the onslaught of Black Friday advertising and Cyber Monday announcements filling up your inbox, Giving Tuesday (December 3 this year) feels like a breath of fresh (wintery) air from the shopping rush. The “holiday,” often known by its social media tag of #GivingTuesday, is all about celebrating generosity and philanthropy. Giving charitably to your favorite organizations feels great and allows you to make a difference in your community, state, and the world. But, you also want to make sure your gift is legally compliant and beneficial, particularly for those who are “bunching” their donations to claim the charitable deduction on federal income taxes

Before you donate on #GivingTuesday (or any other day) consider these legal tips:

Make Sure the Charity is Qualified

A charitable deduction can result in significant tax savings, but for that to occur, the donation must be made to a qualified 501(c)(3). While that may sound basic, some initiatives may look like nonprofits but actually operate as a business, not a tax-exempt organization. A little bit of research can go a long way here. First, read up about the organization in question online and don’t hesitate to call to speak to a representative. You can also use the IRS’ Exempt Organizations Select Check; limit the search to organizations eligible for tax-deductible charitable contributions.

(If your favorite organization is in need of assistance for obtaining tax-deductible status, don’t hesitate to reach out.)

#GivingTuesday What Will You Give?

Sufficient Documentation

Proper documentation is required in order to take the charitable contribution deduction for contributions of $250 or more. This means you need written acknowledgment that expresses the required info of the donee (charity), date of donation, and monetary amount. It’s your legal obligation as the donor to ask for the written acknowledgment, not the charity’s obligation to offer it.

Here’s a simple breakdown of what’s needed for specific types of giving-

  • Gifts of less than $250 per donee — you need a canceled check or receipt
  • $250 or more per donee — you need a timely written acknowledgment from the donee
  • Total deductions for all property exceeds $500 — you need to file IRS Form 8283
  • Deductions exceeding $5,000 per item — you need a qualified appraisal completed by a qualified appraiser

Need more info? I go into detail about appraisers in this blog post.

Restrict in Writing

If you feel strongly about a specific program, region of operation, or use within the nonprofit, you’ll want to restrict the charitable donation. The restriction must be made in writing, at the same time as the donation is made.

Going Global

#GivingTuesday has expanded greatly since its founding in NYC to become a global event. You may hold a foreign-based charitable organization near and dear to your heart and, of course, you may give to that organization, however, your donation won’t qualify for a charitable tax deduction

Background Research

I work with my estate planning clients on defining their goals for their future and assets. The same baseline advice applies to charitable giving—what are your goals? Do the organizations you are donating to support your giving goals? Look at materials published by  One way to gauge this is by reviewing the nonprofit’s annual information on its Form 990, “Return of Organization Exempt From Income Tax.” This form is intended for the public and includes important financial info. The IRS publishes Form 990 and it’s easy to check out the details on Guidestar, a nonprofit database.


If you have any questions on how to give charitably and do so wisely, don’t hesitate to reach out. Maximizing charitable giving in Iowa is the mission of Gordon Fischer Law Firm and we want to help as many Iowans give confidently as we can!

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.

this week calendar

Believe it or not, National Estate Planning Awareness Week is a very real thing and we’re celebrating October 21-27! 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 a 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 an equal right to inheritance and ability to convey assets.

To that point, the individual American citizen of today has the freedom to plan for the 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.