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 2018 Midterm Election will be held November 6, 2018. This year’s ballot includes races for Governor, Attorney General, Secretary of State, State Treasurer, State Auditor, Secretary of Agriculture, the four Congressional seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, all 100 seats of the Iowa House of Representatives, and 25 of the 50 seats in the Iowa Senate.

Regardless of where you fall on the political party affiliation spectrum, it’s so important to practice your right to vote. Midterm elections tend to have a lower turnout (around 40% of the population) compared with presidential election years (around 50-60% of the population), and we need to increase those percentages if we want accurate representation in government. To make voting in Iowa as easy as possible, 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

What’s the deadline to register to vote?

Register to vote by October 27! If you miss the registration deadline, you can register in person at your polling place on Election Day.

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? Is voting accessible for all?

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:

  • Iowa Driver’s License
  • Iowa Non-Operator’s ID
  • U.S. Passport
  • Military ID
  • Veteran’s ID
  • Voter ID Card

If you don’t have any of those, that’s OK. You may sign an oath verifying your identity and then cast a regular ballot.

What if I need help getting to my polling place?

Rideshare services Uber and Lyft are both offering free rides to polling places on November 6!

Questions? Feel free to contact me! Any information you think other readers should know? Share them in the comments below!

sitting on dock at lake

There’s been a lot going on in the news lately and we could all definitely use a ray of bright light in our lives right now. For me, positivity came in the form of an article written by Ken Fusion about my father, Dieter Fischer. My dad passed away earlier this year in March, and this article captured highlights of my father’s legacy he built. He was a hard-working immigrant from Germany who came to the U.S. in 1960 with his wife (my mom). Not only did he love his family, but he also loved America and, in a way, was the true embodiment of the “American dream.” You can read the full article here, if you’re interested!

Gordon with family at bar swearing in

With my mom, wife, and dad at the Iowa Bar swearing in ceremony, 1994

This is all to say that considering the legacy you want to leave is a key part of estate planning. It’s beneficial and can even be uplifting to consider how you want to be remembered and how you want to pass your proverbial torch on to the next generation. It’s less obvious because there’s no legal document you can pen to create this. A legacy is comprised of the memories you create, stories you share, people you love, and difference you make. This legacy can be cemented by giving your property to the people and charities you want, how and when you want.

Gordon with family on bench

A cherished photo from a great day a few years back with my mom, dad, and wife

Want to get started on your estate plan? A great place to start is with my free Estate Plan Questionnaire. Want to talk about your loved ones who have passed away? I understand where you’re coming from and would love to hear about how they’ve impacted you. Contact me at any time.

Man sitting at conference table with phone

The September edition of “The Iowa Lawyer” is now out! Published by the Iowa State Bar Association, this month focused entirely on retirement-related topics. According to the ISBA, there are approximately 2,300 ISBA members who are 60 and older. And, in Iowa in general, people age 65 or older comprise 16.7% of the population. Retiring is a whole different stage in life that can come with newfound challenges as well as benefits. While geared toward Iowa attorneys, many of the insights are applicable in other industries. For instance, succession planning is important for all business owners! Similarly, retirement is a time when charitable giving often gets a boost.

Iowa Lawyer September 2018

GFLF’s piece focuses on how you can use retirement benefit plans to benefit the charities and causes you care about in a strategic, tax-wise way. This is super important for all Iowans to know (not just attorneys!). In the article we focus in on three important tax concepts:

  1. Inheritance as income
  2. Income in respect of a decedent
  3. Step-up in basis (also called, stepped up basis)

You  can read the full article by clicking here and scrolling to page 23.

Retire with a Reason

Any questions after reading? Feel to explore more on the topic in our other blog posts on the subject or contact GFLF at any time to discuss by email, at gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com, or by phone at 515-371-6077.

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.