two hands with wedding rings

Asking if your current spouse of many years can disinherit you is a question I hope you never have to ask. But, it’s an interesting query to say the least, and the answer may astound and amaze you.

It’s super uncomfortable, even for an estate planner like me, to think about my wife leaving me out of her estate plan, let alone her passing away. So, I’m going to use a hypothetical example.

Mr and Mrs sign

Scenario: John, Mary, and the Lover

Let’s say John and Mary are legally married. One sad day, Mary has a massive heart attack and dies. John is shocked to discover that Mary had a valid will he knew nothing about. Far worse, Mary specifically disowned John, said John should get absolutely nothing, and instead Mary left her entire estate to her paramour (aka lover); someone John knew nothing about!

Wow, ice cold, Mary, ice cold.

What result? I’ll give you four options, pick which you think is most correct.

  1. The “manstress” gets everything, John gets nothing.
  2. John gets everything; the lover gets nothing.
  3. The lover gets everything, but only after a lengthy, awkward, and hard-fought court battle.
  4. The lover gets some of the estate, but so does John.

Have you picked?

Answer “D” is most correct, at least under Iowa law.

You see, under Iowa law, a spouse cannot completely disinherit another spouse (assuming they have a valid marriage and they are married at the time of the first spouse’s death).

Elective Share Law

Iowa has an “elective share” law. (You can read the specific Iowa Code Section here if you’re curious. The citation is Iowa Code § 633.237).

In Iowa, a surviving spouse chooses between inheritance under a will OR elective share in the deceased spouse’s estate. Until the surviving spouse files an affidavit for claiming elective share, it will be presumed that the surviving spouse will take the inheritance under the will.

In Iowa, the elective share of the surviving spouse comprises of all of the exempt personal property and 1/3 of the value of all real estate, after the debts have been paid off and 1/3 of whatever is remaining of personal property. The surviving spouse may occupy the homestead in lieu of taking the 1/3 share of real estate of the deceased spouse.

So, Can My Spouse, Disinherit Me?

Bottom line, my wonderful wife, Monica, cannot disinherit me so long as we are legally married. Even if she (or her lawyer) writes a will that states I should get not one single penny from her estate no matter what, I would still have the option of choosing an elective share. Obviously, in this case, just like in John and Mary’s situation, the decision will be an exceedingly easy one. The will give me zero, zilch, nada, nothing—of course I am going with the elective share option.

Gordon and Monica wedding day

This is Monica & I on our wedding day!

But you know what? The elective share is a narrow exception that proves the general rule. By that, I mean the following: one of the great reasons to do proper estate planning, is that you can give what you want, to whom you want, how you want, when you want. (And if you do NOT do proper estate planning, well, then, you leave it up to the Iowa Legislature and Iowa Courts to dispose of your property).

Again, it bears repeating: estate planning allows to give what you want, to whom you want, how you want, when you want. On top of accounting for your loved one in you estate plan, you also have the wonderful opportunity to help the cause or causes that you are most passionate about through charitable bequests in your will.

Want more on this subject? Check out this Facebook live video of me explaining this “in person.”

Have more questions about you will and estate planning? Maybe how you and your spouse can achieve your collective and individual goals? How about avoiding conflicts of interest? I offer everyone a free one-hour consultation. You can reach me anytime through email at gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com or call my cell at 515-371-6077. I’d truly love to hear from you!

book club june

Spread out your beach towel (even if it’s just in your own backyard) and crack open this month’s GoFisch Book Club pick: The Bettencourt Affair, by Tom Sancton.

Bettencourt Affair book cover

The book takes its readers on twists and turns through an all too real French soap opera of the rich, powerful, and famous. Its characters including Liliane Bettencourt, one of the richest women in the world and heiress to the L’Oreal cosmetics fortune; former President of France, Nicolas Sarkozy; an intriguing (or scam) artist; a worried (or jealous) daughter; and a whole slew of lawyers, judges, and other professionals wrapped into the web this story weaves. There’s also some interesting WWII back story that comes into play as well as political payoffs and quid pro quo. It’s a quick read and sumptuous in the surrounding luxury of private jets, islands, and Swiss bank accounts. Yet, entirely sobering when remembering that all this wealth caused the emotional heartache, numerous lawsuits, and ruined careers in its wake.

GoFisch Book Club Flyer

 

Why is this the GoFisch book club pick of the month? Despite its tabloid-esque plot, legal aspects of estate planning are plentiful throughout the life and times of the players with multiple types of trusts, a will that’s being constantly updated, transfer of long-term capital assets, questions of testator incapacitation, multiple conflicts of interest, and impressive charitable giving tools and tactics.

One of the central questions asked throughout the legal battle that ensues throughout the latter half of the 416 pages is: did one man (François-Marie Banier) take advantage of a wealthy old woman or was he simply the supportive friend and recipient of numerous unsolicited gifts. In this course of all of this, multiple other advisors, employees, and politicians get implicated in “l’affaire Bettencourt” as the courts question who did and did not unduly benefit from Bettencourt’s supposed generosity, and who may or may not have had unethical influence over her decisions. The answers to these are answered in part from the decisions of the courts, but

Also, for anyone interested in the legal systems of other countries The Bettencourt Affair offers a sort of crash course on explaining how France’s judiciary operates and how it.

As you’re reading this book consider the estate planning-related questions:

  1. What role did estate planning play in the Bettencourt Affair?
  2. Do you think Liliane Bettencourt;s estate was taken advantage of and if so, by whom?
  3. Do you believe Liliane Bettencourt was of sound mind and body in order to make the financial decisions and gifts she did? What characteristics come into play when proving incapacitation and need for guardianship or conservatorship?
  4. Just for fun…if you had the kind of wealth that the Bettencourts did, what kind of trusts would form and who would the trusts benefit? What organizations would you like to benefit from your tax-wise philanthropic efforts?
  5. What are your thoughts on the French judicial system as exemplified through this book? How does it compare to the U.S. for both the better and the worse?

It’s worth noting here that there almost an endless number of different types of trusts and an adept estate planning attorney can help their clients form a trust that fits with their estate planning, financial, and charitable giving goals.

 

coffee-book-table-word-nerd

It’s also important to remember that trusts are certainly not just for the wealthy. Indeed many regular folks like you and I can stand to benefit from creating different types of trusts. After (or before) you dive into this GoFisch Book Club pick for the month, don’t hesitate to contact Gordon Fischer Law Firm with your trust-related questions or for a consultation if a trust fits your individual needs.

Leave your thoughts on the book in the comments below and let us know if you have any estate planning or nonprofit-related book picks for the upcoming months!

red poppies memorial day

On Memorial Day (and every day), we at Gordon Fischer Law Firm want to give a deep expression of gratitude for the fallen heroes and military veterans who have served America. Indeed, we can enjoy the land of free only because of these brave individuals.

Memorial Day quote with red poppies

While Memorial Day is the unofficial start to the summer season, ushering in the much awaited season with a long weekend of sunshine and BBQs. A Monday off of work is always a cause for celebration, but throughout all this we must not forget the true meaning of this important day—to praise, to thank, and to remember.

GFLF has worked with many veterans on estate planning and in nonprofit formation/compliance, and it’s always an honor. There are not enough “thank you’s” in the world to express our gratitude for what the veterans (and their families) have done for our country. We would also like to extend this sentiment to first responders who have served on the front lines of protecting the public including police, firefighters, and EMS personnel. A special and sincere thanks to those who have sacrificed in the line of danger and their families.

As modern day heroes, our veterans and first responders’ stories are important. Their legacy is important. To preserve that tradition 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 our gratitude we would like to offer 25% off the cost of an estate plan package to all Iowan active duty or retired service members and first responders. The rate also extends to spouses. The discount will be available through 6/30/2018. Contact me via email or by phone (515-371-6077) to lock in the rate and discuss your estate plan needs.

us flag marching band

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 may necessitate estate plan revisions.) Also, don’t forget about assets with your beneficiary designations. For most Iowans, that’s good enough—six documents, keeping them current, and also remembering about those assets with beneficiary designations.

Special Estate Planning Consideration for Veterans

It’s super important that military veterans work with an attorney that specializes in estate planning as veterans have some unique assets and situations to consider. This can make the estate plan more complex and there can be unintended serious legal consequences if your plan is not drafted properly. A few examples of inputs to consider for a veterans involve:

  • Retirement benefit pay (considered guaranteed income)
  • Survivor Benefit Plan (if so elected)
  • Pension benefits
  • Life insurance
  • Dependent Indemnity Coverage (if applicable)

American flag on window

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 that takes into full consideration YOUR situation. (This is why you need an experienced estate planner to draft your documents.) With the Memorial Day estate plan discount, that translates into significant savings.

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.

Washington Memorial with man in front

DISCLAIMERS

The “Memorial Day discount” is only applicable for estate plans created by active or retired veterans and first responders (and their spouses). Availability of the discount ends after June 30, 2018 at which point prospective client must have contacted Gordon Fischer Law Firm and indicated an intention to make an estate plan.
Memorial Day discount merely relates to pricing and in no way creates an attorney-client relationship, nor any other kind of professional relationship. The Memorial 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 Memorial Day discount may not apply to individuals or families with a net worth of more than $1 million dollars. (High net worth families definitely need an estate plan, very much so, but the applied strategies and tools will be more complicated.)
table with book and tea

Often when I’m reading fiction I’ll find estate planning-related issues that cause conflicts, both big and small, for the characters. And, while the stories may be fictitious, the lessons they give us serve as valuable reminders of the importance of quality estate planning.

One such tale I recently revisited is the 1845 gothic novel, Wuthering Heights, in which author Emily Brontë swiftly weaves in ample estate planning issues with English family drama worthy of the Kardashians.

While many estate planning laws and practices have evolved and changed since the mid-1800s, many also have not. Indeed, the outcome of failing to create a valid, quality estate plan certainly has not.

All in the Family

Wuthering Heights twists and turns with love, revenge, birth, and death spanning some thirty-something years from the late 1700s to 1803. Among many other plot devices, conflict rests on the real property (named Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange) that a man named Heathcliff comes to in possession of through a number of different property rights and inheritance laws. In this way English common law has its own sort of starring role in the book, a character for which Bronte shows an impressive grasp of.

Of course, I don’t want to spoil the book because it’s a classic and you should enjoy the experience of exploring it yourself. So, without any spoilers there’s a lot of family conflict and one of the characters (Heathcliff) taking vengeful advantage of a number of unfair laws (especially those discriminating against women) of the time to gain property and power over his siblings. What were these unjust laws you ask? For one, married women couldn’t legally own property in England during this period. Additionally, inheritances generally passed to sons only. (If a father did not have sons and did not specifically name a daughter as a beneficiary, the father’s closest male relative would usually become the heir to the father’s estate.)

Yet, the irony of Heathcliff’s unyielding (and suspect) property acquisition is that in the end, he failed to make an estate plan and therefore failed to seize his opportunity to decide to whom and when he wants his things to pass. Apparently, he had thought about it, but likely did what so many of us do and made excuses and put it off until it was tragically too late. (Again, no spoilers, but Heathcliff’s ending is no fairytale.)

English moors

First Wuthering Heights Lesson: Stop the Procrastination

This brings us to our first important Wuthering Heights estate planning lesson: make an estate plan. Seriously, every adult needs an estate plan, as you never know when unexpected death or incapacitation may occur. For instance, you’ll want to have a health care power of attorney in place before a medical emergency occurs. And if/when it does, you’ll want your assets to go to the beneficiaries of your choosing. Having a valid estate plan in place also saves your loved ones ample time, energy, and money in court costs and lawyers’ fees.

What Happened to the Estate

Because Heathcliff lived in 19th century England, without a valid will in place at the time of his death and without a clear heir at law or living spouse, Heathcliff’s property was “escheat,” a common law doctrine that made sure property was not in limbo without a recognized owner. This meant the property passed to the “Crown” (basically whomever the feudal lord of the area was, or in modern day it would be as if the property was held by the state) and then eventually passed to Heathcliff’s next generation of family members. Now, Heathcliff, given his history with his family, may not have chosen for his unqualified nephew (and niece) to inherit his property. Heathcliff may have wanted to make charitable bequests of his property to a charitable organization he supported. But, the fact of the matter is he didn’t have a will, let alone an estate plan, so then inheritance laws and the judicial system made these personal decisions for him.

As an estate planning attorney, I can assure you this is not something that only happens in books. Without a valid will in place your estate will go through a process called intestate succession where the Iowa probate process and the courts will decide how your hard-earned property is to be distributed. This can take a long time, cost a great deal in fees and court costs, and your property may end up transferred to beneficiaries you never would have selected. Plus, without an estate plan, you cannot give upon your death to charity.

Second Wuthering Heights Lesson: Intestate Succession

Dying in Iowa without an estate plan is different than dying in 1800s England, but what does the intestate succession process actually look like?

It depends on the family situation. If married, the estate will pass to the surviving spouse. If there’s a surviving spouse and living children (whom are not children of the surviving spouse, but children of the deceased), then the estate will be split with half to the spouse and half divided amongst the living children (often referred to as “issue” in legal speak). If there is no spouse and no children, then the division process works its way down a list of surviving family members from parents, then to grandparents, then great-grandparents…and if no one from that list is alive than the estate would pass to the deceased spouse’s issue (such as stepchildren). Finally, if there are no family members living to inherit the estate, the intestate property will escheat (remember when we talked about that before) to the state of Iowa.

Assets that are inherited via beneficiary designations (such as 401ks, IRAs, annuities, checking accounts, and pensions) only become the property of the probate estate and pass through the intestate succession process if no beneficiary is named.

Note well that these highlighted provisions are just the basics. Other statutes come into play with the intestate process pertaining various personal and financial situations.

Just as enlisting an attorney to help you craft a quality, individualized estate plan, it’s important that an attorney be brought on by the surviving family of the person dying intestate in working out how property will be divided.

books sign

Write Your Plan Before “The End”

The bottom line is: don’t be Heathcliff. Every adult (even young adults, and especially adults with minor children) needs to make an estate plan. Not only will this help your family avoid the worst-case scenario of litigation, it will also allow you the benefit of determining who you want inheriting your estate and when. You shouldn’t rely on the rules of intestate succession for dispersal of all the assets you acquired over the course of a life.

Lucky for you, it’s even easier to make an estate plan than it was back in the time of Wuthering Heights. Get started with my Estate Plan Questionnaire or contact me with questions about your individual situation.

xray-doctor

One of the six main parts of an estate plan that every adult Iowan should have is a health care power of attorney (POA). This legal instrument allows you to designate the person that you want to make health care decisions for you in the chance that you become incapacitated and unable to make such decisions for yourself.

Who can be my Health Care POA Representative?

The person you pick is your agent/representative for purposes of health care decision-making and should be (a) a competent legal adult; (b) someone you trust would make health care decisions that align with your best interests; and (c) someone who agrees to the role. Some people elect to have the same person be their designated proxy for both the health care and financial powers of attorney. Other folks choose two different individuals for these roles.

It is highly advised to name an alternate representative in case the person you appoint becomes unable or unwilling to act on your behalf.

The law does not allow your health care designated agent to be a health care professional providing health care to you on the date you sign the document. It also cannot be any employee of the doctor, nurse, or any hospital or health care facility providing care to you. The only exception is if that employee is a close relative.

What types of Health Care Decisions does a POA Cover?

A health care power of attorney can govern any kind of decision that is related to your health that you allow. You could, for example, limit your representative to certain types of decisions. Or, you could allow your representative to make decisions for any type of health care choice/issue that may arise. This includes decisions to give, withhold, or withdraw informed consent to any medical and surgical treatments. Other decisions could relate to psychiatric treatment, nursing care, hospitalization, treatment in a nursing home, home health care, and organ donation.

pills coming out of pill bottle

When Would I use a Health Care POA?

A health care POA comes into play only when, in the certified and recorded opinion of your attending physician, you are unable to make health care decisions for yourself. Your named agent is then able to make decisions regarding your care, receive access to records, communicate with health care providers, and other important actions that would otherwise be off limits.

What is a Living Will?

The name of this document is bit of a misnomer. Sometimes referred to as an advanced directive, a living will is best thought of as a written declaration that informs health care providers of your desire to NOT have life-sustaining treatment continue if you are diagnosed as terminally ill or injured, are unable to communicate your choices regarding your treatment, and such treatment would simply prolong the inevitable and imminent process of dying. You may consider a living will an important part of the whole that is your health care power of attorney document

Under Iowa’s Living Will Law, a living will does not permit withholding or withdrawing food or water unless they are provided intravenously or by a feeding tube. Additionally, medication or medical procedures necessary to provide comfort or to ease pain are not considered life sustaining, and may not be withheld.

Because of the sensitive nature of the living will, before signing the document make certain the provisions included align with your philosophical and/or religious beliefs and wishes.

Important Definitions

Life-sustaining treatment” is defined as the use of medical machinery such as heart-lung machines, ventilators, tube feeding, and other medical techniques that may sustain and possibly extend your life, but which won’t, by themselves, cure your condition.

Terminal condition,” under Iowa law, is defined as an incurable or irreversible condition that without life sustaining procedures, results in death within a relatively short time or a comatose state from which there can be no recovery, to a reasonable degree of medical certainty.

In all states the determination as to whether you are in such a medical condition is determined by qualified medical professionals—typically your attending physician and at least one other medical doctor who has examined or reviewed your medical situation. The decision must be recorded in your medical records.

dr with stehoscope

How do I Make a Living Will?

This is one of the documents I include in the estate planning packages for my clients, if they so elect to have one. The first step, at least when working with GFLF on your estate plan, is filling out my Estate Plan Questionnaire, which is where you can choose “yes” or “no” for creating a living will.

In terms of qualifications, you must be a competent, legal adult who is age 18 or older. The declaration can be signed in the presence of two witnesses (who also must be 18 or older and should not be family members if at all possible) or a notary public. Note that health care employees responsible for your care cannot be the witnesses.

Of course, the declaration for a living will must be signed voluntarily and without coercion.

What do I do Once I Sign a Living Will?

The original living will must be given to your doctor in order for it to be acted upon. Therefore your health care designated agent should have access to the original if the time comes when it is need.

Under Iowa law, it is your responsibility (and therefore your health care proxy if you are unable or incapacitated) to provide your attending physician (the doctor who is primarily responsible for your care and treatment) with the declaration. This attending physician might not be your family doctor, but it’s smart to give a copy of the living will to your family doctor to have on file. In addition, the living will’s existence should be made known to members of your family.

What Happens if I Change my Mind About my Living Will?

A living will is revocable at any time. You may revoke the document easily by notifying your attending physician of your intent to do so. This communication of intent will then be recorded by your attending doctor as a part of your medical record. If this is the case I also recommend contacting your estate planning attorney and health care designated agent to communicate your change. Depending on what is written in your health care POA that document may need revisions or additions, which is something your estate planning attorney can facilitate.

surgeons walking down hallway

What About a Living Will Made in Another State?

This is a good question as each state has its own laws related to living wills and such decisions. A living will made in another state will be valid in Iowa to the extent that the declaration aligns with Iowa laws on the matter.

That being said, it’s best to have a current living will declared in the state you reside in and are most likely to receive care in. So, if you signed a living will while living in Colorado and then move to Iowa, it’s best to sign a new living will that is specific to Iowa’s laws. (Plus, moving across state lines is one of those big life changes that mean you should update your entire estate plan to be sure it’s valid under your new home state’s estate, property, and inheritance laws. So, you may as well update your living will while you’re at it!)

What Happens if I don’t Have a Living Will?

Without a living will stating your directives, others will be forced to decide if life-sustaining procedures will be used for you. (Typically this is a situation one does not want to place on their loved ones.) If you have a health care power of attorney, that representative will make the decisions regarding life sustaining treatments and procedures.

If you also don’t have a health care power of attorney in place, Iowa law states that the attending physicians and the first person available from the following list will make such health care decisions for you  in front of a witness:

  • A guardian, if applicable (Note that a court appointed guardian must obtain court approval before making this decision.)
  • Your spouse.
  • Your adult child (or a majority of your adult children who are available).
  • Your parent or parents.
  • Your adult sibling.

Communication is Key

Just like it’s important to discuss your estate planning decisions with your executor and family, it is equally important to discuss your health care and life-sustaining wishes with the person who will be your agent. You may also plainly state directives on your health care power of attorney form such as “I want all available organs to be donated in the event of my death.”

Review and Get Started

Whew. That was a lot of important information in one blog post. Let’s review how the two different but compatible documents of health care power of attorney and a living will:

  • Your health care power of atttorney gives a proxy your designate and trust the authority to make medical decisions for you if you are unable to make them for yourself.
  • The living will is a document specifically directing your physician that certain life-sustaining procedures should be withdrawn or withheld if you are in a terminal condition and unable to decide for yourself.

You can have a health care power of attorney document without having a living will. And, while not advised to not have a health care power of attorney document in place, you could technically have a living will without a health care power of attorney.

If you don’t have health care power of attorney or a living will in place, there’s no time like the present to make your decisions known and recorded well before the unexpected happens. Fill out my easy Estate Plan Questionnaire to get started. If you have any questions about either of these documents, don’t hesitate to contact me at gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com or by phone at 515-371-6077.

Selection Sunday 2017

1. If you understand #SelectionSunday, and #MarchMadness, you can most certainly understand estate planning.

When I meet people who say they’re confused about estate planning I love to see their faces when I tell them understanding the basics of wills, trusts, and even business succession planning may sound intimidating, but the basics are as simple as understanding NCAA March Madness. Seriously! Many folks know what teams are on the bubble, which teams were playing well at end of season and which weren’t, what the most likely upsets are, and so on.NCAA Basketballs

Just like all those details are a part of #SelectionSunday and #NCAAMarchMadness, there are multiple input that go into a quality estate plan. For starters there are your personal goals, the six main estate planning documents, and then personal considerations for, say, children, family with special needs, pets, and charitable bequests. Feel free to read into these estate plan elements (like you would check out the stats of your favorite teams!) in between sweating out your bracket. And, speaking of your bracket…

2. If you have time to fill out a March Madness bracket (and you do), you also have time to fill out an Estate Plan Questionnaire.

Most everyone I know fills out a March Madness bracket in a (mostly) friendly competition with family, friends, co-workers, or sometimes all three. If you have time to fill out a bracket, why not also put serious thought into securing your future with estate planning? No, I’m not trying to guilt you. It’s just, again, it’s not that hard! You can find my Estate Plan Questionnaire here. It’s a great place to start.

 

 3. Weird stuff happens.

We all know that a huge part of the fun of NCAA March Madness are the upsets. The super thrilling and/or gut wrenching endings that shouldn’t have happened, but somehow did. It’s a reminder that life, for better or worse, is quite unpredictable. Why not make sure that plans are in place in case something unexpected happens?

Want some more sports to legal analogies in your life? Check out this read on preparing your favorite nonprofit for top-notch compliance.

Regardless of who you’re slating to win it all, I would love to hear from you; let’s schedule an initial free one-hour consultation (at no obligation, of course). Email me at gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com or give me a call at 515-371-6077.

love in lights

Valentine’s Day is coming up quick and while I think the commercialized messages of “this is love” can get a little cheesy, I’m a full supporter of a day that celebrates love. Be it love for your spouse, a celebration of the fact that you are awesome, or showing even more adoration for you furry best friend, the world could always use a little more love. In this important addition to the #PlanningForLove series, let’s talk about ways you can show love to your children through you estate plan.

I’ve discussed the importance of guardianship quite a bit on this blog. It’s important that anyone with minor children establish guardianship so that if something were to happen to you as a legal guardian that your minor children (under age 18) would be immediately placed in the care of someone you know, trust, and most importantly, choose. Just as establishing guardianship is a powerful gift that your children will hopefully never have to actually know about or experience, a testamentary trust can also continue to provide and support your children if something were to happen to you.

There are an almost endless number of different kind of trusts and you can put just about any asset in a trust. Testamentary trusts are one of the most common kind of trusts I establish for my clients. You may recognize the first word of the type of trust from “last will and testament.” Indeed, a testamentary trust is a trust written into your will and provides for the distribution of a portion or all of your estate.

Sounds simple enough, but you’re thinking, “What does this have to do with my kids?”

Different from an inter vivos trust, which is established during the settlor‘s lifetime, the testamentary trust kicks in at the completion of the probate process after the death of the person who has created it for the benefit of their beneficiaries.

Typically testamentary trusts are created for minor children or others (such as a relative with some kinds of disabilities) who may inherit a large amount of money if you (the testator) were to pass away. The general thinking is that you may not want a minor child, or even a young adult, to have uninhibited access to their inheritance until a certain age (and presumed level of maturity) is reached. (I can imagine what I would have done with an inheritance at, say, age 18 and it surely wouldn’t have been the smartest use of money!) The testamentary trust then terminates at whatever age you choose, at which point your beneficiaries receive their inheritances outright and can use the funds in any way they choose.

child with red heart

The testator can choose distribution to be distributed in percentages such as 25% at age 18, 25% at age 22, and the remaining 50% at age 25. Or, the trust funds may be distributed in full at a single age. (All at age 25 is the default if the testator doesn’t choose otherwise.) Distributions can also be made immediately upon your passing if all beneficiaries are legal adults (age 18 or older). The testamentary trust could also be set-up for disbursements around milestones, such as a percentage or full disbursement when the beneficiary graduates from an accredited two- or four-year college institution.

Testamentary Trustee

With a testamentary trust you also need to designate a trustee. The trustee is responsible for managing the trust property according to the rules outlined in the trust document, and must do so in the best interests of the beneficiary (for example, a minor child). Generally I advise the appointed guardian also be the trustee of a child’s testamentary trust.

Testamentary Trust Options

In my Estate Plan Questionnaire I offer clients three main options for testamentary trust organization. (Note that there can be more than one testamentary trust created in one will.)

  • Option 1: Separate trust fund for each beneficiary. Each beneficiary’s inheritance to be held by the trustee in a separate fund. Whatever is left in each beneficiary’s trust fund, if anything, will be distributed to that beneficiary when they attain the age(s) indicated in the following section. This option ensures that all of your beneficiaries are treated equally, regardless of needs.
  • Option 2: Single trust fund for multiple beneficiaries. The entire inheritance will be held by the trustee in a single trust fund for the benefit of multiple beneficiaries (such as multiple children). The trustee may make unequal distributions during the term of the trust if a beneficiary needs additional assistance. Whatever is left in the trust, if anything, will be distributed equally when your youngest beneficiary attains the age(s) indicated in the following section. This option will allow the trustee to accommodate a particular beneficiary’s needs by distributing more of the inheritance to that beneficiary during the term of the trust. (Recommended with younger beneficiaries.)
  • Option 3: No delayed distribution. Beneficiary’s inheritance may be made directly to the beneficiary or a court-appointed conservator if beneficiary is a minor/incapacitated. Funds will be distributed directly to the beneficiary at the age of 18.

mom and daughter hugging

The important takeaway from all of this is that a testamentary trust can be entirely personalized to fit your wishes. For example, most folks want the testamentary trust written in such a way that their beneficiaries may have access to funds to pay for higher education costs like tuition, room and board, books, and fees, on top of the necessary funds needed for an adequate standard of care, protection, support, and maintenance of the beneficiary.

Estate Plan Revisions & Updates

If you already have an estate plan review it. Estate plans never expire, but major life events or a change in estate planning goals can necessitate changes. For example, if your family welcomed a new baby or adopted a child then it’s definitely time for update your estate plan to include them! Maybe something changes in the future with one of your beneficiaries and you want to change distribution percentages or ages? Simply contact your estate planning attorney and let them know your wishes.

A Lasting Love

hearts on a string

The love for your children knows no bounds and without a doubt you want to make certain you can still provide for them if something unexpected were to happen to you. There’s no day like today (or Valentine’s Day!) to get your ducks in a row just in case. The best place to begin is with my Estate Plan Questionnaire or by contacting me.

headphones and pink flowers

Speaking of the most romantic holiday of the year, I’ve really LOVED writing the #PlanningForLove series in the lead up to Valentine’s Day this year. We’ve been able to cover some super important aspects of an estate plan and how, oddly enough, estate planning is one of the ultimate expressions of love.

I have no doubts that after reading posts on how you can show love to your spouse, pets, and even yourself through estate planning you are ready to take the first step and fill out my (free) Estate Plan Questionnaire. Thinking about your estate’s executor, beneficiaries, and charitable bequests can only be made better with a special Gordon Fischer Law Firm Valentine’s playlist. (You can also check out my other estate planning-inspired playlist while you’re at it!)

What are your favorite love songs of all time I should add to this playlist? Let me know in the comments below. (Also, I apologize if “My Heart Will Go On” is now stuck in your head.) Want to discuss your estate planning options? Don’t hesitate to contact me via email or phone (515-371-6077).

neon LOVE

One major way we can show our loved ones how much we care about them is by making our wishes known for when we’re no longer there to tell them. Estate planning is one of the best ways to do that, especially concerning wishes regarding what’s to be done with the physical body after death. One of the six main documents a part of any estate plan is called the “disposition of final remains.” In this document you can detail how you want your body to be treated after you pass away, along with any ceremonial aspects. You may be as specific or as general as you wish.

If you’ve ever had someone close to you die and have been tasked with making arrangements for the wake, funeral, and burial or cremation (or otherwise), you know it can be difficult. Not only are you dealing with heartache and grief of losing that loved one, but now you’re also dealing with the organizational aspects of death. If you die without an estate plan, and without clear instructions in a disposition of final remains document, you’ll be leaving your loved ones with a headache on top of the inevitable heartache. Ambiguity surrounding final remains can lead to fighting between family members if they disagree over what would be best. That’s why taking the time to think through your final services is a wonderful gift and a great way to show you loved ones how much you care.

Let’s go through some of the basics related to this important, valuable document.

 

What Does “Final Disposition” Mean Anyway?

Final disposition sounds, well, conclusive. Indeed, this is about what you ultimately want done with your physical body following death, and can include burial (sometimes referred to internment), cremation, removal from the state (if you want to be buried in a different state), and other types of disposition. You may also detail, if you wish, a funeral or other type of ceremony (maybe even a party) to be held. If you’ve purchased a burial plot or want to be laid to rest in the family mausoleum, you would include those details here.

Choose a Designee

In the disposition of final remains document you can designate one or multiple adults to assume responsibility for carrying out your wishes, similar to how you designate an executor to carry out the wishes as written in your will. Your designee (or designees) can be whomever you choose, just be sure to speak with them to make certain they are comfortable and accepting of the role.

Of course, the designee must be a competent adult. The Act also allows for alternate designees to be named in the event the primary designee is unable to act. The Declaration is not allowed to include directives for final disposition of remains and arrangements for ceremonies planned after death.

If something were to happen to you without a disposition of final remains document in place, the surviving spouse (if there is one) assumes the role as designee. If there is no surviving spouse, then the designee role passes to any surviving children. If there are no surviving children then the role would pass to the parents of the decedent, then grandchildren, surviving siblings, and finally surviving grandparents.

 

Can I Change my Mind?

Your wishes may change over time and that’s ok, because the disposition of final remains is revocable. That means you can change your designee if one becomes unable or unwilling. (Regardless of whether or not you want to amend your disposition of final remains document, you should review your estate plan annually to see if any major life events require updates.)

How do I Start?

Because the disposition of final remains document is a key part of your estate plan, it’s best to get started with my free Estate Plan Questionnaire. Questions or want to discuss your personal situation? Contact me at any time via email or phone (515-371-6077).

animal care trust dog in lap

This current series leading up to Valentine’s Day is all about love and how that love can translate to estate planning. Thus far we’ve covered the best V-Day gift to give your spouse, advice on where to store your estate plan (and it’s not a chocolate heart box!), and how an affinity for football makes understanding estate planning easy. Romance and gift guides aside, this #PlanningForLove series would be incomplete without featuring the love for your pet.

Let’s be for real for a minute. The relationships we have with our pet(s), be they a dog, cat, amphibian, pocket piglet, parrot, or pony are some of the most comforting and consistent. Who else will lick your face, eat snacks out of your hand, demand belly rubs, or get the most Instagram likes? Our pets are a part of our family and it only makes sense to include them in estate planning documents and decisions concerned with the continued care for our loved ones.

cat with flowers

The best way to include your furry and feathered friends in your estate plan is with an animal care trust (sometimes known as a pet trust). This is a special kind of trust different from a living revocable trust or an inter vivos trust. An animal care trust specifically provides for the care of your pet in the event that something were to happen to you. In the trust you’ll likely want include the following information:

  • Sufficiently identify your pets and include a provision that describes your pets as a class through phrasing such as  “the pet(s) owned by me at the time of my death or disability.”
  • Describe your pet’s standard of living, care, and include any regular and special instructions. You can get as specific or general as you want at this point. For example, if your bird only likes a particular brand/type of food, or your dog thrives when she plays catch once a day, this can be specified in a trust agreement. If you want your pet to visit the veterinarian for check-ups three times a year, this can also be written in.
  • Determine the amount of funding that’s needed to adequately cover the expenses for your pet’s care. Generally, this figure can’t exceed what may reasonably be required given your pet’s standard of living.
  • Designate a trustee, caregiver, and remainder beneficiary. Also designate successor trustees and caregivers if for some reason either becomes unable or unwilling to fulfill their role. The remainder beneficiary is who receives the trust assets if trust funding outlives the beneficiary (your pet).
  • Specify how the funding should be distributed to the caregiver from the trust.
  • Provide instructions and wishes for the final disposition of your pet (for example, via burial or cremation).

Check out and feel free to share this infographic with your fellow pet parents. (Click here to download the pdf version.)

gordon fischer law firm animal care trust

Valentine’s Day is coming up, so let’s discuss how to show your continued love for your pets even if something were to happen to you. Contact me via email of phone (515-371-6077).