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.

Irrevocable life insurance trust clipboard

The August 2018 issue of the Iowa State Bar Association’s The Iowa Lawyer magazine was recently published. This edition includes GFLF’s piece on how irrevocable life insurance trusts (ILITs for short) can be a valuable estate planning tool. While the magazine is an industry publication for lawyers, this information is also incredible useful for anyone with life insurance as an asset.

Iowa Lawyer August 2018 cover

This month’s ISBA publication also includes interesting pieces on:

So, put on your reading glasses, click here, and scroll to page 22 to learn more about the challenges life insurance can pose in estate planning and the major benefits of ILITs. I would love to hear your feedback on the piece either in the comments below, or via email at gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com. Also, we’re open to any suggestions you may have for specific topics you would like to read about related to GFLF’s core services

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.

What do you think of when you think of July? I think about family picnics, vacations, fireworks, the MLB All Star Game, the beach, hometown festivals, and a cold bottle of beer on a hot day.

But mostly I think of Independence Day!

The Fourth of July means a great deal to me as the son of immigrants, with both a mother and father who risked all by leaving home forever, crossing an ocean, and coming to a country they didn’t even begin to yet know.

My parents were from in East Germany. Neither knew English. Neither had been outside of Germany. Indeed, neither had travelled at all very far from their homes—my dad’s small farming town and my mom’s city life in nearby Dresden.

In 1960, the wall divided East and West Germany, but was still just a bit porous. It wasn’t yet the Iron Curtain of the forthcoming years, where leaving was all but impossible.

My parents saw what was coming, or sensed it at least, and decided escaping was worth the enormous gamble. The dream was to make it to America, and become Americans.

With a day-long work visa, my dad went to West Germany. From there, you could pretty much do what you want – West Germany was a democracy with complete freedom of travel.

A Cabinet Maker’s Journey

My dad had the following possessions for a trip halfway around the world: a small suitcase of clothes and personal items; a rolled-up master’s degree in cabinet making; and $500 (in the form of five $100-dollar bills) squirreled away. That was all.

My dad arrived at Ellis Island with the good word from family acquaintances (from Czechoslovakia), who had emigrated to Chicago, that there was plenty of available work in the Windy City.

So, he took a Greyhound Bus from New York to Chicago. When he arrived at Chicago, no doubt feeling somewhat disoriented and overwhelmed, he almost had his suitcase (his one possession!) stolen by the bus driver.

(The bus driver had given him a claim check ticket, but now claimed the claim check ticket didn’t match, and that my dad couldn’t have his suitcase until this could all be figured out by the home office. My dad didn’t know about any home office, but he did know he couldn’t possibly even let the suitcase out his sight. The driver tried some more flim flam…my dad insisted on his suitcase…there was a standoff, and eventually the driver realized he’s needed to find a more gullible tourist, and relented.)

He lived in downtown Chicago with his family friends, worked two jobs, and wrote my mom often. It was understood by all that the mail was being opened and read, both by the East Germans and the Americans.

Eventually, my dad decided he was settled enough to have my mom come over. My mom followed the same path—day-long work pass to West Germany, boat trip to New York, bus to Chicago.

American Dream

american flag and hat

They worked four jobs between them, trying to save money. The dream, of course, was to save enough money to live in their very own apartment, buy a house, and ultimately raise a family.

They learned English by watching TV and trying to read the newspaper during the small windows of time when they weren’t working. But the folks they were in daily contact with, both at work and at home, were Czech.

Consequently, they ended up learning some pretty good Czech first! When they realized Czech as a second language was helpful, but not nearly as helpful as learning English was, they began speaking only in English. They would force themselves in all social situations to use English. They even opted for more TV, and forced themselves to go out into the city, to put themselves in situations where they would have to use English.

Of course, with this background, July 4th always held special meaning for my family. It was a holiday we always celebrated with a huge picnic, along with my parent’s other immigrant friends. And eventually the talk always circled back to giving thanks for being American, living in America, breathing free air. Every Independence Day I give a silent thanks to my parents for giving me the chance to be where I am today. All the work I do, to maximize charitable giving in Iowa, is a celebration of the opportunities we have to make our own lives and the lives of others better.

pie with sparklers

So, this Fourth of July take a moment to think about what being an American means to you. How does philanthropy and giving charitably fit into your vision for a better-together nation? I’d love to hear your thoughts as well as your family’s immigration story. Share in the comments below or reach out to me at any time!

Have you read GFLF’s latest contribution to the Iowa Bar‘s monthly publication, The Iowa Lawyer? The piece, “IRS Form 990: 10 Policies and Procedures Most Iowa Nonprofits Need” covers:

  • how important the annual information filing (Form 990) is for tax-exempt organizations;
  • top policies and procedures highlighted on the form
  • why investing in sound policies and procedures means investing in success
  • deadlines and failure to file for Form 990

While targeted toward the attorneys who subscribe to the magazine, this article provides excellent information for all nonprofit board members, officers, staff, donors, volunteers, and other stake holders. Give the article a read and then get a jump start on top notch compliance well in advance of next year’s due date for the Form 990!

If your nonprofit hasn’t yet adopted all of policies outlined in the article (or they are in dire need of an update), what are you waiting for? Contact Gordon about the 10 for 990 deal (10 essential policies asked about of Form 990) for just $990. The rate includes a consultation, documents drafted to fit the unique needs of your organization, and one full review round. The benefits are numerous and the compliance risk is frankly too great to NOT have these important policies and procedures in place.

The March issue of The Iowa Lawyer magazine is out and I’m happy to say that includes Gordon Fischer Law Firm’s latest piece on how to account for digital assets in estate and business succession planning. Entitled “Down Low on the Download,” the article covers points including an overview of the Digital Assets Act, how digital assets should be considered in lawyers’ succession plans under Iowa Court Rule 39.18, and easy steps all Iowans can take to include digital assets in planning for the future. Click to page 9 to read more.

March Iowa Lawyer

Also in the Iowa State Bar Association’s publication are stories on local rules, a profile on Iowa Legal Aid’s new director, and a cover piece on a Vinton lawyer (who happens to share the Fischer last name) who tragically lost his office to a fire.

If you’re interested in reading GFLF’s previous published articles in past editions, click here to scan through the archives.

Happy Read Across America Day! Coinciding with Dr. Seuss’ birthday, the “holiday” encourages kids to get excited about reading and read more books. Created by the National Educational Association and first celebrated in 1998, the day is marked by reading events at libraries, bookstores, and schools, among other community spots, to celebrate the joy of reading.

While the day was originally intended for school children, I like to celebrate it by taking some time out from legal work and curl up with any one of the good books that have been piling up on my bookshelf begging to be read. As an attorney, reading is a regular part of my work, but unfortunately reading State of Iowa code just isn’t the same experience in the way that a fiction adventure sucks you in or a nonfiction account expands your world. On top of that, I enjoy book clubs (and have tried my fair share of them), but it’s hard to be a steady, regular attendee at a book club! Life happens, work happens, and before you know it, you’re the person pretending to have read the book and adding little to the discussion…

GoFisch Book Club Flyer

That’s why I’m starting the GoFisch book club! Just like Read Across America Day is about getting students excited about reading, I want this club to get Iowans excited about different aspects of charitable giving, estate planning, and nonprofits. The titles chosen will be in some way or another related back to Gordon Fischer Law Firm’s core services, but they’ll be books you would want to read to learn and grow from regardless. Plus, you’ll never have to clean the house in order to host, make treats, or worry about being on time! Sounds good right? (Of course, you’re more than welcome to make treats to eat while you read and share your opinions on the book!)

So, if there are no meetings, how does a digital book club like this work?

Three months of book selections will be listed at all times. So, today the titles for this month, April, and May will be available. (See below.) June’s title will be announced in April and so on. This way you can read ahead, or pick and choose which titles you wish to read.

At the beginning of each month an intro to the book will be posted. All readers are invited to post their own discussion questions in the comments for me and all other readers to consider as we read the book together. At the end of the month I’ll post a follow-up with some discussion questions (including those posed by readers in the comments) and corresponding thoughts; all readers can add to the discussion in the comments. Simple enough. Two posts: one at the beginning of the month introducing the book and one at the end with questions and thoughts. Suggestions for discussion questions and future books are HIGHLY encouraged.

March GoFisch Book Club Pick

What’s the first read to kick the GoFisch book club off? Drumroll please… The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter.

It seems to me that with words like “hygge” all over Instagram, natural materials integrated into interior design, and “lagom” as a philosophic life approach, borrowing life tips for the Scandinavians is all the rage as of the past few years. I don’t see why “death cleaning” would be any different—taking smart, practical steps in preparation for something that will inevitably happen to us all. Without a doubt this book ties in with estate planning as a complementary, future-focused action you may take during life to prepare your loved ones for your death. 

Written by the artist Margareta Magnusson, the book explores the Swedish practice of döstädning, the practice of taking stock and clearing out any unnecessary stuff before others have to do it for you. It’s minimalistic in theory and extremely considerate to your family and friends in practice. At a short and sweet 128 pages, the text is a quick read with a healthy dose of humor and wisdom sprinkled throughout the guide.

Magnusson’s approach also encourages you to begin the sometimes difficult or sensitive conversations around death with family members. Ultimately, the author wants to help her readers take the question “will anyone I know be happier if I save this” and apply it to a process that’s uplifting, rather than depressing or overwhelming.

How you acquire the book is up to you. You could check the book out from your local library, read it on your Kindle or tablet, or buy a nice hardcover addition for your reading nook.

April & May Book Picks

After you get schooled on how to prep for death like a Swede, dive into the following reads:

Calling all Bibliophiles: Make a Book Club Suggestion

What books would you like the GoFisch book club to read beginning in June? Add your book suggestions (along with any discussion questions) to your comments below. You can also share your thoughts on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram with the tag, #GoFischbookclub.

I’ll never forget that night. Several months ago, a simple notification popped up on my Twitter account. Very rarely have five words caused me such joy: “Soledad O’Brien is following you.”

I was social media starstruck!

Sure, I know that this was likely the doing of a digital tool that auto-follows accounts that tweet about certain subjects. Or, maybe it was one of the social media interns who saw my retweets of @soledadobrien and decided to throw me a follow as a fan. Since she follows 447k accounts I have no doubt that the impressive individual herself didn’t actually follow me…but hey, we all like to feel liked and heard even if it’s a digital facade.

To understand why this was such a Big Hairy Audacious Deal (if you got the reference to Jim Collins’ concept, applause!), let me put this into context of my small, “local” Twitter account and Ms. O’Brien’s worldwide acclaim.

A Lonely 440+

My Twitter account has merely around 440 followers (at the time of publication). I put out great content, and it’s growing slowly and surely, but would love for more people to join the party. (In fact, if you’re reading this and haven’t followed @FischerGordon yet, check out all the great info I share on estate planning, nonprofit formation and compliance, and charitable giving on top of Iowa-centric news and all around interesting factoids.) But, let’s be honest I have a long way to go to catch up to the likes of the Big Ben clock that simply tweets “bong” in various quantities and the San Francisco fog, apparently named Karl.

Soledad is Superb

In contrast to my lowly follower count, @soledadobrien has a well-deserved follower count at 809k and counting. For those few of you who are unaware, Soledad O’Brien is a world-famous broadcast journalist renowned for her roles as anchor and correspondent for MSNBC, CNN, HBO, and Al Jazeera America. She has been a tremendously well respected presence in broadcast news since 1991. She has covered so many huge stories I can’t possibly list them all. Countless times she’s been on “best of” lists and she’s won a Peabody Award and four Emmy Awards.

Presently, Ms. O’Brien is the host of Matter of Fact with Soledad O’Brien, a show focusing on politics and socioeconomic concerns produced by her very own multi-platform Starfish Media Group.

Newsworthy Nonpxrofit Policy Special Worthy of O’Brien’s Reporting

I would regularly check to see if Soledad O’Brien ever unfollowed me. Maybe the social media software algorithm wised up or the social media intern was tasked with clearing out the followings of accounts with sub-500 followers. But, my coolest follower (sorry everyone else!) is still there! This fact has, of course, let me to the inevitable conclusion: O’Brien must want me on her show! Why else would she follow an attorney who’s on a mission to maximize charitable giving in Iowa?

Why would she want me on her show at all? I’m biased, but I think the 10 for 990 nonprofit policy special (available through March 15) is certainly newsworthy! While not a political scoop, the 10 for 990 deal could benefit (Iowa) nonprofits working toward the betterment of socioeconomic issues and/or advocating for increased engagement in American democracy.

A journalist of O’Brien’s caliber would need some more details before she ever agreed to have me on as a guest. As such, the 10 for 990 offer provides nonprofits the ten policies discussed on the IRS’ Form 990 for the flat fee of only $990. (IRS Form 990 is the tax form nonprofits must complete once they’ve reached a certain monetary threshold. Just like individuals have to fill out a personal income tax form). The 10 policies asked about on the Form 990 include conflict of interest, document retention and destruction, whistleblower, compensation, fundraising, gift acceptance, financial policies and procedures, and investment.

If Ms. O’Brien were to ever interview me on this truly fantastic deal, I would share the benefits of having a qualified attorney craft these important policies and explain the collective responsibilities of nonprofit boards.

Even if you’re not an award-winning journalist turned CEO, I would love to talk to you about this policy special. Because Form 990 is typically due in May, now is the perfect time to get ahead on compliance. Nonprofit executives, board members, and even engaged volunteers should contact me via email or phone (515-371-6077) to learn how this could fit in with your organization’s goals.

Did you miss the most recent edition of my monthly newsletter, GoFisch? It “swam” (punny, get it?) into inboxes on Valentine’s Day and fittingly featured how estate planning is a way of saying “I love you.” While Valentine’s Day has come and gone, every day is a great day to show your friends and family you care, so give the highlighted posts about different aspects of estate planning (like final disposition of remains and testamentary trusts) a read.

This GoFisch edition also included:

  • An exciting policy special for nonprofit organizations running through March 15. Read more about the 10 For 990 deal here.
  • A love-inspired curated Spotify playlist to play while you work through your estate plan.
  • Iowa-based nonprofit & philanthropy news.
  • Must-read GoFisch blog post highlights.

Like what you read? Don’t forget to subscribe to GoFisch and tell your friends! You can also scan through previous editions of the newsletter here.

discussion over table with laptop

Imagine I’m working with a great new client named Daphne. She wants to found a nonprofit organization to assist at-risk youth in her local community and across Iowa. This is a hypothetical memo I would send to Daphne outlining the steps of what it takes to form a nonprofit in the state of Iowa. (Note, if you’re looking to form a 501(c)(3) it’s best work with a qualified attorney for advice and counsel specific to your situation and goals.)

To:                  Daphne Downright – SENT VIA EMAIL
From:             Gordon Fischer (gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com)
Subject:         How to Form a 501(c)(3) Nonprofit
Date:              January 24, 2018

Dear Daphne:

Good afternoon! I very much enjoyed our phone conversation of this morning, where we discussed your intent to begin a nonprofit to assist at-risk youth. Certainly this is an noble mission and I have no doubt that you could make a big impact. I also acknowledge you are very busy and don’t have the time to allocate to dealing with all of the documentation. So, I’m here to take this stress off of your plate!

Let’s recap some details regarding the process for founding a nonprofit organization. These steps will set your public charity up for the best possible success.

Main Steps to a 501(c)(3)

To recap what we talked over, forming a 501(c)(3) involves four steps:

  1. drafting, editing, and filing articles of incorporation;
  2. drafting and editing bylaws, with new board members then voting in favor of the bylaws in a duly authorized meeting;
  3. applying for an Employer Identification Number (EIN); and
  4. drafting, reviewing, and editing the IRS non-exempt status application, known as IRS Form 1023, as well as all the supporting materials IRS Form 1023 requires.

By far, the most difficult and time-consuming of the four steps is the IRS Form 1023. You should definitely review the form immediately, so you can gain a sense of the level of detail and involvement it requires.

How much does it cost?

While my regular hourly rate can go up to $300 per hour, I often have agreed with clients to perform all the legal work required to successfully begin a nonprofit for a flat fee of $4,800. I typically bill this over the span of five months, i.e., five easy payments of $980, due on, say, the first of each of the months.

Additionally, as you would expect, this matter will necessitate payment of filing fees to governmental agencies, such as the Iowa Secretary of State’s Office and the IRS. (The Iowa Secretary of State has a $20 filing fee, and the IRS 1023 Form has a $850 or $400 filing fee depending on the amount of gross revenue expectations). Of course, clients are solely responsible for payment of all such governmental fees.

How long does this take?

It usually takes a few months to pull all the paperwork together, including and especially Form 1023. I’ve had, however, ambitious clients who wanted to do it much faster, and I was able to accommodate. The flat fee includes as many conferences with me as you reasonably need for us to complete steps 1-4, above.

Benefits of Nonprofit Formation

Daphne, the benefits of a 501(c)(3) are many and include:

Tax exemption/deduction

Organizations that qualify as public charities under Internal Revenue Code 501(c)(3) are eligible to be completely exempt from payment of corporate income tax. Once exempt from this tax, the nonprofit will usually be exempt from similar state and local taxes.

Even better: if an organization has obtained 501(c)(3) tax exempt status, an individual’s or company’s charitable contributions to this entity are tax-deductible.

Eligibility for public and private grants

Nonprofit organizations can solicit charitable donations from the public. Many foundations and government agencies limit their grants to public charities.

Being able to offer donors income tax charitable deductions for donations, as well as eligibility for public and private grants, are probably the two major reasons folks want to obtain 501(c)(3) status.

Formal structure

A nonprofit organization exists as a legal entity and separate from its founder(s). Incorporation puts the nonprofit’s mission and structure above the personal interests of individuals associated with it.

Limited liability

Under the law, creditors and courts are limited to the assets of the nonprofit organization. The founders, directors, members, and employees are not personally liable for the nonprofit’s debts. There are exceptions. A person cannot use the corporation to shield illegal or irresponsible acts on his/her part. Also, directors have a fiduciary responsibility; if they do not perform their jobs in the nonprofit’s best interests, and the nonprofit is harmed, they can be held liable.

Focus your giving

With charitable giving flowing through a central nonprofit organization, and not through, say, a for-profit business, it’s easier to focus the giving on a singular mission. A for-profit business may be easily pulled away from a charitable mission by the pet causes of lots of different customers, clients, vendors, and employees. A nonprofit should be much less susceptible to such pressure.

Responsibilities of Forming & Managing a  Nonprofit

Of course, there are serious responsibilities that come along with creating and running a nonprofit. These can’t be overstated, and include:

Cost

Creating a nonprofit organization takes time, effort, and money. Plus, keeping a nonprofit on track, compliant, and successful also requires great care.

Paperwork

A nonprofit is required to keep detailed records and submit annual filings to the state and IRS by stated deadlines to keep its active and exempt status. 

Shared control

Although one who creates a nonprofit may want to shape his/her creation, personal control is limited. A nonprofit organization is subject to laws and regulations, including its own articles of incorporation and bylaws. A nonprofit is required to have a Board of Directors, who in turn determine policies. 

Scrutiny by the public

A nonprofit is dedicated to the public interest, therefore its finances are open to public inspection. The public may obtain copies of a nonprofit organization’s state and federal filings to learn about salaries and other expenditures. Nonprofits must be transparent in nearly all their actions and dealings.

Continue the discussion

I hope this information is helpful to you as you begin this journey. It won’t always be easy (although I will attempt to make it as simple as possible for you!), but it will be worthwhile.

I would enjoy the opportunity to be of service to you. Thank you for your time and attention. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact me. As I told you this morning, I offer anyone/everyone a free one-hour consultation. Simply reach out to me anytime via my cell, 515-371-6077, or my email, gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com.

Warmest regards,

Gordon Fischer

Gordon Fischer Law Firm, P.C.