Attorney reading The Iowa Lawyer COVID-19

The Iowa State Bar Association recently published a special edition of The Iowa Lawyer, dedicated to legal situations and considerations related to the global pandemic of COVID-19.

Gordon Fischer Law Firm wrote two pieces for this volume. The first article provides tips for supporting nonprofits providing critical aid. The second piece covers best practices for estate planning during coronavirus and how getting even the basic documents in place can provide some peace of mind. The hope is that these pieces provide useful information for all Iowans, not just attorneys. Scroll to pages 15–18 on this PDF version of the publication to start reading!

Iowa Lawyer COVID-19 Cover April 2020

Also in the Iowa State Bar Association’s publication are some interesting stories on: managing anxiety and stress during this chaotic time; how to stay cybersecure while working from home; and what companies’ legal obligations are around the coronavirus, among many other worthwhile reads.

If you’re interested in reading GFLF’s previously published articles in past editions, click here to scan through the archives. Also, the articles got you thinking that it may be time to start on or revise your estate plan, check out GFLF’s free, no-obligation Estate Planning Questionnaire.

Picture of tablet offering self isolating guidance for COVID-19

Many of us are facing uncertainty and tough times as COVID-19 has forced much of daily life to look different for the time being. Many are working from home for the first time; students are engaged in distance learning; and some of us are taking care of loved ones and friends.

GFLF appreciates and respects the health and safety precautions we should all take to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. While I greatly enjoy meeting with all of my clients, for the immediate future all of my services can still be provided—in full and without any change in quality—through phone calls, emails, and video conferencing. I’m also still offering free consultations and would love to chat about your estate planning, charitable giving, or nonprofit needs.

While I’m certainly not a health care professional, I want to help our heroes on the frontlines of this virus by sharing important information. Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve seen some informative graphics and have included some of my favorites below. If you have important Iowa-specific information, especially related to charitable giving or nonprofit organizations, please don’t hesitate to share with me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or email.

Stop the Spread of Germs image

Hand Washing Image

how do I prepare for coronavirus and lists steps

What community spread means

Coronavirus Disease 2019

Coronavirus Disease Handwashing

Stop the Spread of COVID-19

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.”

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

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.).
voting booth

We’re taking a momentary break from learning the ins and outs of estate planning, how to form a successful, compliant nonprofit, and how to practice tax-wise charitable giving for an important message brought to you by democracy…go vote! The 2019 General Election will be held November 5, 2019. This is the first time Iowa’s city and school elections are combined on the same day; in past years school elections were held in September. According to figures from the Iowa Secretary of State’s Office, there are a total of 2,780 different races across the state. Furthermore, 5,445 candidates are running for 4,920 different seats. Plus there are 149 public measures being voted on.

Voting seems simple, but there can rules surrounding the voting process that can make things confusing, or at least uncertain. To help out I’ve compiled a list of useful information. Share it with your friends, family, and colleagues and encourage them to cast their ballot!

Voter Ready

Do I have to register to vote?

Yes. Registering to vote is a legally required in Iowa. The requirements you have to meet to register are:

  1. Must be at least 17 years old, and be 18 years old by election day (or be 18 by the city/school election or general election vote in a primary election)
  2. Must be a U.S. Citizen
  3. Must be a resident of Iowa
  4. Cannot be a convicted felon (unless your voting rights have been restored)
  5. Cannot be judged mentally incompetent by a court of law
  6. Cannot claim the right to vote in any other place

What’s the pre-registration deadline to register to vote?

The pre-registration deadline to register to vote was October 25. (For future reference, you can pre-register to vote online, by mail, or at your county auditor’s office.

What if I didn’t pre-register?

If you miss the pre-registration October deadline don’t worry because you can register in person at your polling place on Election Day. To do this you go to your polling place and must provide proof of ID and current residence within the precinct. (The documentation can be either electronic or paper.)

Acceptable documents for proof of ID include:

  • Iowa non-driver ID card
  • Out-of-state driver’s license or non-driver ID card
  • U.S. passport
  • U.S. military ID
  • ID card issued by an employer
  • Student ID issued by Iowa high school or college
  • Tribal ID

Acceptable documents for proof of residence include:

  • Residential lease
  • Utility bill (including a cell phone bill)
  • Bank statement
  • Paycheck
  • Government check or other government document

What if I want to register on Election Day but don’t have the proper documentation? 

Even still, if you don’t have sufficient documentation on hand, you may still register if another registered voter, who lives in the same precinct, attests to your identity and residence via Election Day Registration documents. You and the attester will be required to sign an oath swearing the statements are true. (Note well that a false attestation for either party constitutes registration fraud and is considered a class “D” felony and is punishable by a fine of up to $7,500 and up to 5 years in prison.)

I’m unsure if I’m registered to vote in Iowa. How do I check?

Search your status here.

Speaking of polling place, where do I vote?

Find your polling place by entering your zip code here. (The polling place data on the Iowa Secretary of State page is for regularly scheduled Primary, General, School and City Elections. The data is provided by county auditors through the statewide voter registration database.)

 

Can I vote early or absentee?

register early to vote

Definitely! There are three ways to vote by absentee ballot if you are registered to vote in Iowa.

  1. Absentee ballot by mail
  2. Absentee ballot in person at county auditor’s office
  3. Absentee ballot at a satellite voting location

Iowans living overseas can register to vote and request an absentee ballot in one step.

I just moved to Iowa. Can I vote?

If you have moved to Iowa from another state or moved to a different county in Iowa, pre-register to vote in your new county 10 days before general elections. (It’s 11 days before all other elections.) If you miss the pre-registration deadline, Election Day registration is available.

I’m a college student in Iowa from another state? Can I vote in Iowa?

As a college student, you may choose to register to vote at your home address or at your college address. You can’t register to vote at both. To pre-register to vote, complete a voter registration form and return it to your county auditor’s office.

What about voters with disabilities?

If you or a family member need special assistance to vote, you have the right to have an accessible voting location, assistance to vote and accessible voting equipment. Here’s a helpful brochure on what you need to know.

Can an Iowan still vote if they have a guardian or conservator?

Yes, persons with a guardian or conservator can still vote, unless a judge has specifically said in a court ruling that they may not vote.

Do I need an ID to vote?

You will be asked to show one of the following at your polling place by precinct election officials:

  • Iowa Driver’s License (not expired more than 90 days)
  • Iowa Non-Operator ID (not expired more than 90 days)
  • U.S. Passport (not expired)
  • U.S. Military ID or Veteran ID (not expired)
  • Iowa Voter Identification Card (must be signed)
  • Tribal ID Card/Document (must be signed, with photo, not expired)

The Iowa Voter Identification Card is provided to all voters that don’t have either an Iowa’s driver’s licenses or non-operator ID.  The Card is provided automatically by the county auditor. (For replacement Cards, contact your County Auditor.)

If you’re without any of these forms of ID you can hope someone you know will be there to attest to your identity and residence. Otherwise, you can prove your identity using Election Day Registration documents.

 

Questions? Any information you think other readers should know? Feel free to contact me

man reading on a tablet

The October edition of GoFisch is out! Give GoFisch a read to learn more about:

  • Halloween-related posts to help make estate planning less scary
  • Book club pick for November
  • A philanthropy-related video featuring Bill & Melinda Gates
  • Blog highlights
  • My new Halloween playlist on my Spotify
  • Nonprofit & charitable giving news

Like what you read? You’re invited to subscribe to the monthly newsletter; I never send out spammy communications. Know a nonprofit leader, philanthropist, or anyone who needs an estate plan? Feel free to pass the newsletter along!

happy halloween

The December holidays don’t need to be the only time of the year that you give charitably! Halloween is the perfect excuse to do something sweet in the spirit of the spooky. Let’s be honest, most years you have way too much leftover candy. You never want to leave any trick-or-treaters empty bucketed. Combine that with the haul the kiddos heave home and it’s a recipe for a cavity (and some extra pounds). Satisfy your sweet tooth and then do something good with your candy!

Halloween pumpkin

This Halloween, I challenge you to make a simple, but significant donation of un-opened, wrapped candy in lieu of an unnecessary sugar rush. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Treats for Troops

Treats for Troops, run by 501(c)(3) Soldiers’ Angels, collaborates with businesses (like dentist offices!) to be candy collection centers. The treats are then collected and distributed to soldiers stationed overseas, wounded service personnel, and veterans. By searching for a drop-off site near me, I found two within a reasonable distance.

Ronald McDonald House

The Ronald McDonald House does amazing work assisting families of sick children by providing a comfortable, affordable place to stay during treatment as well as good food (anything is better than hospital food!). There’s a local Ronald McDonald House here in Iowa City; contact them about dropping off your Halloween candy to make some kiddos (who may not have been able to trick-or-treat) very happy.

Operation Gratitude

Similar to Treats for Troops, Operation Gratitude compiles and sends care packages to first responders in the U.S. and service personnel stationed overseas. The organization’s mission is simple, but significant: to put a smile on soldiers’ faces. Along with donations of leftover candy, you can send encouraging letters, postcards, and pictures. Drop-off locations can be located on their map.

Pay attention to their do’s and don’ts, including the instruction to “fill out and submit an online Donation Form with the total pounds of candy and any additional donated items. You will receive an email confirmation with a printable barcode to include in your package, along with shipping instructions.” The organization needs your candy shipped by 11/9!

buckets with candy

What other ideas do you have for donating leftover, extra candy? Let me know on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter!

halloween confetti

In the spirit of Halloween this month, let’s take a break from scary estate planning excuses, probate fees, and haunting nonprofit actions and have some fun. Whether you’re an attorney, work with the law in other ways, or are just a fan of legal puns, these last-minute Halloween costumes are for you!

Exhibit A

This costume goes in the “oh shoot I just got invited to a Halloween party tonight” category. Be an evidence exhibit by simply donning a white shirt, and pinning a piece of red paper with “Exhibit A” in large black letters on it! It’s old-school (pre-Internet filing days) and excessively easy.

https://www.gordonfischerlawfirm.com/nonprofit-scariest-things/ Law-suit  

Similar to the exhibit A costume, you can totally fashion this more formal look out of a suit you already have. Wear a suit, write the word “law” on a piece of paper and hang it around your neck. Get it? Law-suit! Word of caution: you may get eye rolls, smiles, and chuckles at your look.

A salt & battery 

In need of a couples costume? Take on a couple of classic tort claims of assault and battery that are often paired together. Throw together a salt shaker look by wearing a white shirt with a black “s” on the front and a tin foil hat. Pair it with your crafty partner who can create something that looks like a battery and voila!

halloween on chalkboard

Voir deer

Animals tend to be a safe pick for adult Halloween costumes, but this one puts a legal spin on a deer costume. Assemble an assortment of brown clothing and get some cute ears that make you look like a woodland deer. Have a friend write the word “voir” on your forehead. Boom. You’re voir dire! You’ll have a great time explaining jury selection to everyone who is confused by your choice of apparel.

What law-related Halloween costumes have you imagined? Share them in the comments with GFLF on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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:              April 13, 2019

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.