legislative building

On the GFLF blog this month, we’re going “back to school” with some fun legal lessons like last-minute gifts of personal propertynonprofit operation, and what planned giving actually means. Happy learning! 

If you have an estate plan already, give yourself a high-five! You’re well on your way to establishing a worthy legacy; effectively and efficiently transferring your hard-earned property; and saving your loved ones time, money, and emotional turmoil. Plus, you’re ahead of the more than half of Americans who haven’t done any estate planning!

Even though estate plans never expire there are many reasons you might need to revise or at least double-check your documents. Some common life events that could impact your documents and/or estate planning goals include: the birth of a child/grandchild; death of a beneficiary; marriage; divorce; moving across state lines; receipt of an inheritance; and other major financial status changes.

I recommend my clients review their plans at least annually and if there’s any question if a life change would require an estate plan revision, it’s better to just ask! (Reminder, I offer a free one-hour consult! Even if I didn’t draft your current estate plan, I’m happy to discuss your situation to determine if an updated estate plan is in order.)

It can be easy to forget or overlook changes that occur outside the realm of your personal life that may impact your estate. For instance, changes in federal or state legislation could render your current estate plan provisions ineffective and irrelevant. A recent example that had a major impact was the Tax Cuts and Job Act of 2017.

Legislative Changes

The Tax Cuts and Job Act doubled the estate tax exemption, meaning the law massively increased the total amount of assets you can own before you are subject to estate taxes. For an individual to be subject to estate tax, your estate must exceed $11.2 million. For a married couple, the estate tax has no effect until total estate is worth more than $22.4 million. In short, the federal estate tax really only applies only to the richest of the rich.

Blast From the Past

But in 2017, before passage of the TCJA, the estate tax exemption was half of what it is now. Even more relevant, in 2001, the estate tax exemption was much, much smaller, just $675,000. From 2002-09, the estate tax ranged from $1 million to $3.5 million. Back in those days, even middle-class and certainly upper middle-class Iowans had to have some concern about the estate tax. After all, if you add up all your assets–real estate, vehicles, retirement benefit plans, insurance, etc.–you can reach that threshold surprisingly quickly.

Complex Trusts

It used to be that estate planners would establish complicated trusts to make certain clients avoided the estate tax. One example (of many) of such a complex trust is the A-B marital trust.

The A-B trust was almost entirely designed to minimize estate taxes. It was one trust, but with two parts. Under the A-B trust, the “A” trust holds the portion of the estate designed to qualify for the martial deduction, while the “B” trust was designed to maximize any unused estate tax exemption for the surviving spouse.

Now, an A-B trust isn’t as necessary unless a single person’s estate is greater than the federal estate tax threshold. (It might be necessary in a state that had a state estate tax, but Iowa does NOT have a state estate tax; we need only worry about the federal estate tax).

Cut the Complications

The upshot of the recent legislative tax change is that some folks could do with a much more simple trust than what they currently have. Considering the new estate tax regime, a simple revocable living trust will much more neatly fill their needs, and also be more easily interpreted, explained, and more easily defended in case of challenge. Also, with a simple revocable living trust, less can go wrong. There need not be any legale “Rube Goldberg” contraptions designed to avoid a federal estate tax that won’t apply anyway.

We’re Not Just Talking Taxes

It’s important to know that estate planning is not just about protecting your estate from taxes. The benefits of estate planning are many when compared to dying intestate (without a will), including but definitely not limited to:

Plus, a good estate plan should be written to fit with your personal goals. It can be hard to think about a world where you won’t be alive, but it’s also a reality we must all face. How we prepare for our death (or incapacitation) can mean a world of difference for the loved ones and favored causes we leave to carry our torch on into the future.

Trusted Consultation

Was your trust drafted when the federal estate tax was lower? For the good of your loved ones, let’s optimize your planning strategy. If you’re not sure what kind of trust you have, or whether it really fits your situation, don’t stress one second. I offer a free one-hour consultation! Truly, I would love to hear from you; email me at gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com or call me at 515-371-6077.

MLK Jr Statue

There are few speeches that resonate across space and time in the way that Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech has. Delivered on this day in 1963 from the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C., the iconic speech has inspired the importance of hope and change in America for multiple generations. He challenged America to “rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.'” Take a moment to revisit the speech. You can listen to the audio of the speech on The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute’s webpage and I’ve included the text of the speech below as well below.

I have the same dream

I Have A Dream

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.

But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

In a sense we have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.” But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.

We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. They have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.

As we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, “When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied, as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating “For Whites Only”. We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.

Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.

I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with a new meaning, “My country, ‘tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.”

And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!

Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California!

But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

Buckingham Palace with gate

Britain’s Royal Family has been very much in the news lately. There was the recent wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. There’s also the hit Netflix series The Crown. (Who else can’t wait for season 3?!) Trump broke royal protocol multiple times on his recent trip. Prince George just turned five. And, earlier this summer (June 2 to be precise), Queen Elizabeth II marked the 65th anniversary of her 1953 coronation ceremony.

In front of more than 8,000 guests, including prime ministers and international heads of state, she took the Coronation Oath to serve her people. She was handed four symbols of authority—the Sovereign’s Orb, royal sceptreRod of Equity and Mercy, and the royal ring of sapphire and rubies. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Geoffrey Fisher, then placed St Edward’s Crown on her head to complete the ceremony.

An Unavoidable Unknown: Life Expectancy

I doubt very few of those dignitaries present would have guessed that Queen Elizabeth would reign for 65 years (and counting). In fact, I’ll bet if you told folks present at the ceremony that she would continue as Queen for well more than six decades, they would have thought you were, in English parlance, “crackers!”

But, one never knows about any one person’s life expectancy. Queen Elizabeth’s reigning longevity is surprising, but so, in reverse, is life of both celebrities and our family/friends alike cut too short.

There is a macabre and unfunny joke among estate planners: “Not everyone dies when they are supposed to.”  We all hope to live to be a ripe old age, like Queen Elizabeth II, and look back on a happy, fulfilling life. But it doesn’t always happen.

Ultimately Queen Elizabeth will pass away too. Everyone does. That’s why everyone needs an estate plan, even though you’re not the Queen of England and even if you’re not wealthy; even if you’re single; and even if you’re young.

Be prepared for the best, or be prepared for . . . less than the best. Have an estate plan in place so that your loved ones will not have to deal with the stress, ambiguity, and heartache of struggling with the confusion that comes with of intestate succession and not knowing your wishes or wants.

queen's crown

Royal Benefits of Revocable Living Trusts

A revocable living trust may make sense for many folks, not just royally wealth. The benefits of trusts are many, but one of the main ones is that assets avoid probate. This saves time and means distribution of assets to heirs more quickly and easily. Trusts avoiding probate generally mean less costs at death—less attorneys’ fees, less court costs, and, typically, less taxes. Living revocable trusts are also super flexible; in a single trust instrument you can name guardians for your minor children; protect assets from creditors; give to your favorite charities; and set up an endowment.

Along with a living revocable trust, you’ll also want several other legal documents: a power of attorney for health care; a power of attorney for financial matters; and a disposition of final remains, to name a few.

You don’t have to be a royal to know that estate planning is a smart, strategic, crowning achievement you can be proud of. Just like Queen Elizabeth’s longstanding legacy, you too can cement your place in history (if even just within your immediate family and with the charitable causes you care for). If you don’t have an estate plan yet, the best way to get started is by filling out GFLF’s free Estate Plan Questionnaire, or contact Gordon. If you already have an estate plan and want to invest in the benefits of a living revocable trust, don’t hesitate to reach out via email or by phone (515) 371-6077.