george washington figurine

Happy Presidents Day! Even if you don’t have today off of work on this federal holiday, it’s a good day to think about the first and pretty incredible leader of the United States, George Washington. First recognized by Congress in 1885, the holiday was first celebrated on Washington’s birthday, February 22. Eventually, the day shifted to the third Monday in February after the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. Instead of celebrating by chopping down a cherry tree (just kidding, that’s a myth), consider the ways Washington’s own estate planning can inspire you to get your affairs in order.

“Human happiness and moral duty are inseparably connected.”

Washington Wrote His Own Will

This is probably a terrible point to start on, as I cannot encourage you to write your own estate plan. There are so many ways that this can go wrong from lacking requisite formalities, mistaking property laws, and risking the document being found entirely invalid. All of these errors can result in a situation that causes your loved ones heartache, confusion and can maybe even lead to litigation. But, history is what it is. Washington wrote his own will and dated it July 9, 1799, not long before his death on December 14 that same year. However, considering Washington was one of the wealthiest presidents of all time, if he were living today, he would definitely want to enlist a team of professional advisors to make sure all of his assets were accounted for and passed on in a tax-strategic way.

Washington Made Two Wills

Washington was a smart man, clearly. He had, not just one, but two last will and testament documents! Of course, you don’t need and shouldn’t have two estate plans, but you should update your estate plan regularly when changes may affect your estate plan’s effectiveness or determine who you include as a beneficiary, executor, or guardian.

Washington was apparently on his deathbed when he asked his wife, Martha, to bring him both editions of his will. He had her burn one so the “real” one was competing against the other version. Again, it’s the principle that sometimes you need to make important changes to your plan that’s important here!

Washington Included His Charitable Goals

Washington left the entirety of his estate to his wife. However, he also wanted to benefit the causes he cared most about. Washington was concerned about American youth being sent to Europe for formal educations and wanted to benefit higher education institutions in the growing United States. He left 100 shares he held in a company called James River Co. to help, what ultimately became, Washington and Lee University. He also left 50 shares in a different company to endow a D.C. university (which never came to fruition).

Like Washington, you too can give to the charitable organizations and causes you care about by naming them in your estate plan as beneficiaries of certain amounts of money or of a certain percentage of your estate.

Washington Chose His Executors Wisely

Most folks I work with only choose one or two main executors of their estate plan, and then also name an alternate or two if the first choice doesn’t work out. Washington named a full seven executors to oversee that his wishes and dispersion of property was carried out. His executors included his grandson, five nephews, and his wife.

In Washington We Trust

Probate can take a long time, especially if you pass away intestate (without an estate plan). But Washington’s estate, unfortunately, took an excruciatingly long time to be completely settled. For reasons unknown, appraisal of the estate wasn’t filed with the court until 1810! And then, the estate was not fully closed until 1847. Yikes. If you would the majority or all of your estate to avoid probate, you may want to consider a trust of some sort.

Power to the People…To Make Thier Wishes Known

As Washington said, “It is better to offer no excuse than a bad one.” Drop the estate planning excuses! You don’t need presidential power to make a quality estate plan that meets your goals. One of the easiest ways to get started with my free, no-obligation Estate Plan Questionnaire.

movie camera

I was scrolling through Netflix the other night and finally landed on The Aviator, which I haven’t seen in a while. The 2004 Scorsese film starring Leonardo DiCaprio tells the story of the eccentric aviation magnate and movie producer, Howard Hughes, who tragically battled OCD, paranoia, and chronic pain (from a near-death plane crash) and spent his later life as a hermit. That led me down a rabbit hole of internet research into the real Howard Hughes. As an estate planner, I naturally wondered what happened to his estate when he passed away in 1976. (Perhaps fittingly the aviator passed away in an airplane.)

Even if You’re Not a Billionaire, You Need an Estate Plan

Unfortunately, the tale of the Hughes estate is a cautionary one of what NOT to do.

Hughes—who was reputed to be one of the wealthiest men in the world—died intestate, meaning he died without a valid will. That can cause chaos, confusion, and cost ample time and money for regular folks. But, when your estate is worth billions like Hughes’ was, it causes a mass tangle of court proceedings. In the case of the Hughes estate, debate and disputes lasted a total of 34 years.

In the aftermath of his death, several documents were brought forth alleging to be the magnate’s will. All were deemed to be forgeries. A Nevada court determined Hughes died intestate, meaning the law determines how assets are distributed to heirs-at-law. However, Hughes died divorced (allegedly) and without any close relatives; he left no clear heir(s). This debacle of no will meant that many people came out of the woodwork claiming to be relatives.

A Messy Web of Forgeries, Fraud, & Litigation

So, after years of attorneys, courts, and dubious claims, what actually transpired?

Eventually, $2.5 billion was split between 22 of Hughes legal cousins in 1983. (Undoubtedly he didn’t know some or even the majority of these people. It’s also been said he didn’t want his money to go to his distant relatives, but without an estate plan, his wishes were steamrolled by probate law.) In an interesting twist, a woman named Terry Moore came forth claiming she married Hughes on a boat in international in 1949 and that they were never divorced. She didn’t produce any proof of the marriage (like a marriage certificate), but the estate paid her a $400,000.

The Supreme Court even had to step in. They ruled in the messy dispersion of assets that the Howard Hughes Medical Institute owned Hughes Aircraft, which it then sold off in 1985 to General Motors for more than $5 billion. The Court also rejected lawsuits brought by Texas and California, claiming they were owed inheritance taxes, but the suits were eventually put to rest with settlements of $50 million and $150 million respectively in property and/or cash.

In 2010, more than three decades after Hughes passed, the last slice of Hughes pie (Summerlin residential development community near Las Vegas) was liquidated.

Leave a Valuable Legacy

Undoubtedly, Hughes left his mark on 20th century American history. However, his legacy could have been cemented in the way he wanted (probably giving the bulk of his estate to the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and nothing to long lost cousins) if he would have had a proper estate plan created completed with valuable strategic tools like different trusts and charitable giving vehicles. While most of us will never have an estate valued even close to the likes of Hughes, we can be smart with what we do have and make certain what we choose is dispersed to whom we choose, when we choose. There’s no need for your assets to be tied up in red tape or be dispersed in a way that’s not fitting with your wishes.

Contact me with your estate planning questions, or get started with my free, no-obligation Estate Plan Questionnaire, which will help you organize important information needed for the plan in one place.

single pink carnation

Here on the GoFisch blog we’re covering how estate planning and love are two things that go together like hugs and kisses, red wine and chocolate covered strawberries, cute cards, and candles…just in time for Valentine’s Day!

If the sight of Valentine’s Day cards, heart-shaped candy, and overpriced stuffed animals give cause for an eye roll, you’re not alone. But, there’s no doubt that underneath all the conversation hearts that a holiday about love is worth celebrating…especially if it’s self-love. At the end of the day, there’s no greater love than the one you can cultivate for yourself.

Couples get a lot of attention on Valentine’s Day—from the overpriced card aisle to the heart-shaped chocolate boxes that are clearly the only way to tell someone “I love you.” But, the pink, red, and white modern iteration of the pagan fertility festival Lupercalia can take many forms including making it a day of “treat yo’self.” If you’re single, or simply are in need of a day to celebrate and connect with how awesome you are, Valentine’s Day need not be a day to exalt romance, but a holiday to celebrate love for yourself.

In terms of celebrating yourself, executing an estate plan is a natural fit. Why? Because estate planning allows you the chance to determine the direction of your legacy even after your physical life has passed. This principle can easily be remembered with one simple phrase: Give whatever I have to whomever I want, the way I want when I want.

That’s a celebration of your life if I’ve ever heard it—decisions that guide your hard-earned property and assets into the hands of beneficiaries whom you care for. Estate planning also saves your loved ones’ time, money, and the arduous intestate probate process. Don’t forget that estate planning can (and should) be personalized to entirely fit you! Have a best furry friend? You may want to consider an animal care trust. Have you invested in a fledgling art collection? You’ll want to review your three main options for art disposition. Own your own business? You’ll want to look into a trust and a business succession plan.

So, treat yourself to a nice bottle of wine, a delicious dinner, maybe even a day at the spa, but also download my Estate Plan Questionnaire. You deserve to celebrate yourself, your life, and your work. Questions? Want to talk about the individualized aspects of your estate plan? Don’t hesitate to contact me.

wine and glasses

A fancy dinner out on the town is nice. Going to see a show is great. A trip to the spa for a couple’s massage is romantic. All are excellent date ideas and I fully recommend you pursue them! But, in addition, there’s one unconventional date idea you and your significant other should consider this Valentine’s Day: reviewing your estate plan.

forever scrabble tiles

Don’t worry, even though I’m an attorney I totally understand that reviewing multiple pages of a legal document isn’t outright romantic (much to the relief of my wife). However, because I am an estate planning attorney I know realistically how important it is to keep your estate plan updated and current. Taking time with your significant other to consider your current and future assets, as well as your estate planning goals is a practical “date” with major benefits for the future like saving time, money, and eliminating hardship on your family and friends.

Major life events like the birth of a child or grandchild, marriage or divorce, moving to a new state, a major change in financial situation, and/or the loss of a designated representative or beneficiary could necessitate changes to your estate plan to keep it valid.

An outdated estate plan could more easily be challenged in probate court or create unnecessary tensions between your loved ones. (This is yet another reason estate planning relates to the concept of love so well—the act of proper, quality estate planning can reduce the likelihood of future tensions and conflicts. Knowing that with a bit of planning and annual updates you can give your family and friends clear instructions that allow them to sidestep drama is certainly an act of love in its own right.)

Let’s use some hypothetical examples to explore why it’s necessary to update your will and the other important estate planning documents. If you have minor children you should have nominated a guardian in your will in case something was to happen to you. Let’s say the primary guardian you nominated has since moved far away—this may mean you need to consider nominating a new guardian.

In another example, it came to light since you made your estate plan that your financial power of attorney designated representative has fallen on hard times due to a gambling addiction…you’ll seriously need to consider amending the document and designating a different representative.

Speaking of change, remember too that state and federal laws are perpetually changing and when certain rules change, so too must your estate plan. Case in point? The “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017,” AKA the new GOP tax bill. For instance, the changes to the federal transfer tax exemptions could impact decisions as to if a certain type of trust is applicable. Again, this is where an experienced professional estate planner, whose job it is to stay up on these policy changes so you don’t have to, is beneficial.

two shells make a heart

A Legal & Loving Tradition

Again, it’s a good idea to review your estate plan at least once a year even though estate plans never expire. What better date reminder for a long-lasting document indicating a standing commitment to care and support than Valentine’s Day? Make it a tradition! (You can even drink wine and eat a box of chocolates while you review.) Along with reviewing the estate planning documents, it’s smart to check in with your professional advisors like your estate planner, financial advisor, insurance agent, and the like.

Of course, if you don’t have an estate plan yet that’s the first step. Even more “romantic” than reviewing your estate plan? Filling out my Estate Plan Questionnaire! Don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions and share the results of your estate plan review with me via the hashtag #PlanningForLove on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

heart lock on bridge

You’ve been perpetually reminded by commercials, Facebook ads, and the candy aisle at the store that everyone’s favorite pink, red, and chocolate-dipped holiday is coming up quick. In this #PlanningForLove series through February 14, I’m featuring different aspects of how estate planning oddly but perfectly fits in with a day all about love. For this post, I’m going to focus on married couples because, despite the commercialization and overpriced flowers, Valentine’s Day seems as good as time as any to celebrate your spouse!

Let’s face it, it’s a miracle any of us find a soul mate, a best friend, a partner in crime…whatever you call them…that not only tolerates all your weirdness on the daily, but also still loves you “for richer or poorer” and “through sickness and in health.” I can think of no better way to honor that kind of long-term commitment than to take the appropriate estate planning steps with your sweetheart in mind. I realize it may not be the most romantic gesture, but it’s WAY more valuable than stale chocolates or a heart-holding teddy bear. And, like your love, there is no expiration date on an estate plan.

For richer or poorer makes a lot of sense when put in the context that someday you are going to pass away and you probably want to pass your assets to your spouse (and heirs at law) while also minimizing the burdens. If you die without a will it will cost your beloved a lot of time and money, on top of anxiety and even heartache.

In sickness and health also directly relates to one of the main estate planning documents. For instance, say you were in an accident and were severely incapacitated. You would want to have your health care power of attorney established and kept updated (many spouses choose one another as the designated representative), so that important medical decisions could be made by someone you trust to do what’s in your best interest.  The same goes for a financial power of attorney. There are many aspects of your separate finances you may want to designate to your spouse so they could settle or manage specific assets in the case that something happened to you.

Beyond the numerous benefits that come with the six main estate planning documents that all Iowans need (yes, all Iowans, young and old; rich and not wealthy!), what are the other considerations of spouses should have in regard to estate planning?

couple in love with writing on wall

What’s Mine is Yours: Common Law Property

The majority of states, including Iowa, are called “common law property” states. (As opposed to the alternative—community property states—which applies to eight states.)

In this case, “common law” is simply a term used to determine the ownership of property acquired during the marriage. As in, the common law system provides that property acquired by one member of a married couple is owned completely and solely by that person. Of course, if the title or deed to a piece of property is put in the names of both spouses, then that property would belong to both spouses. If both spouses’ names are on the title, each owns a one-half interest.

If your spouse were to pass away in a common law state, his or her separate property is distributed according to his or her will, or according to intestacy laws without a will. The distribution of marital property depends on how the spouse’s share ownership—the type of ownership.

If spouses own property in “joint tenancy with the right of survivorship” or “tenancy by the entirety,” the property goes to the surviving spouse. This right is actually independent of what the deceased spouse’s will says. However, if the property was owned as “tenancy in common,” then the property can go to someone other than the surviving spouse, per the deceased spouse’s will. Of course, not all property has a title or deed. In such cases, generally, whoever paid for the property or received it as a gift owns it.

‘Til Death do us Part: Forced Share Law

If married, technically your spouse cannot disinherit you. An Iowa statute allows spouses to take a “forced share” against the will. In short, the surviving spouse has a choice; the spouse can inherit any property bequeathed to him/her under the will, OR the spouse can take a forced share. So, even if a will leaves nothing for the surviving spouse, the surviving spouse can take a forced share against the will.

Under Iowa law (specifically, Iowa Code § 633.238), a surviving spouse that elects against the will is entitled to:

  • One-third of the decedent’s real property;
  • All exempt personal property that the decedent held; and,
  • One-third other personal property of the decedent that is not necessary for payment of debts and other charges.

In other words, a surviving spouse can choose (elect) after your death to basically ignore your will or trust that doesn’t provide for said surviving spouse, and take approximately one-third of your estate.

For example, if you left your entire estate to your children and not your spouse, your spouse can say, “You know, I don’t like this at all. I’ll take one-third of my dead spouse’s estate. Thank you!” And, pretty much just like that, boom, the surviving spouse can do so.

Preferred Portability: Unlimited Marital Deduction

The unlimited marital deduction is a money-saving must for married couples. The unlimited marital deduction is an essential estate preservation tool because it means an unrestricted amount of assets can be transferred (at any time, including at death) from one spouse to the other spouse, free from taxes (including the estate tax and gift tax). Note that the marital deduction is available only to surviving spouses who are U.S. citizens. If your spouse is not a U.S. citizen, look at other tools, such as a qualified domestic trust (QDOT), which may act to minimize or eliminate taxes.

Property Passage

If you acquired property (like a house or other significant asset) before getting married, take a look at re-titling property (such as a home) from sole ownership to joint tenancy. This means that if one spouse were to pass, the other would get the property without it passing through probate. (Depending on your situation, you could also consider “tenancy in common” as another option for holding property titles under multiple names.)

love me when I'm dead graffiti

Joint Representation is Optional

Married couples often seek joint representation in estate planning, meaning they both utilize the same estate planning lawyer. (And, yes, you most definitely want to hire a qualified, experienced estate planner.)  The benefits are obvious; joint representation can be cost-effective and can be more efficient since you can work together on a single Estate Plan Questionnaire in preparation to meet with the estate planning lawyer. Another advantage is that the joint representation somewhat forces open and honest communication between you as a couple as you make decisions on beneficiaries (such as children and grandchildren), executors, and disposition of property.

However, individual representation is, of course, an option and can help couples avoid conflicts of interest.) There are times when it is best for each spouse to seek separate legal counsel. One such time is when there are different interests that are at odds with each other. For example, if one or both people have children from a previous marriage/relationship that will be named as beneficiaries. There can be conflicting interests between stepparents and stepchildren when it comes to the estate. Additionally, if you both have your own individual estate planning lawyer, you may have more freedom to voice individual concerns, without having to audit your opinions in accordance with your partner’s desires.

All You Need is Love…and an Estate Plan

You’ve worked hard for the life you’ve built together with your spouse. This Valentine’s Day, give a gift that ensures your commitment will carry on even after one of you passes on. The best way to get started is with my free, no-obligation Estate Plan Questionnaire. You can also email or call (515-371-6077) me at any time. I’d love to explain more how an estate plan says, “I love you,” way better than a card ever could!

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. The 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 your 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 to be 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).

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).

cute puppy

In the lead up to Valentine’s Day, I’m exploring here on the blog how 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 see 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 unexpected were to happen to you. Contact me via email or phone (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 your 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 your 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 is 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 kinds 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 the 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 the 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 to 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.

bowl of heart candy

Thanks for reading the #GoFisch blog! Now through February 14 I’m sharing how flowers, jewelry, or chocolate are not the only gifts that say, “I love you.” While not explicitly romantic, a personalized, quality estate plan speaks to that lifelong consideration and care be it for your significant other, your children, or even simply yourself. 

Typical Valentine’s Day gifts usually come in the expected packaging—velvet or heart shaped-boxes topped with silky ribbons and complete with a red rose or a sappy card. But, an estate plan is not your typical Valentine’s present and therefore needs some special storage. You’re more than welcome to put a bow on the documents following the signing…finishing your estate plan is something worth celebrating! However, a gift bag won’t do for safely and securely protecting your estate plan.

I give my clients guidance on where to store their original estate plan documents because it should be both be kept private and safe, but should still be practical and accessible by those who need it such as your will’s executor or designated representative for financial matters. So, where specifically should your keep your original estate plan? There are a few different options.

In Your Home or Office

office space with flowers

When you think accessibility, the places you spend the majority of your time, such as your home or office, are going to be obvious choices. Some of my clients who’ve chosen this option even invested in a water- and fire-proof safe. (Of course, if you get a safe, folks who need to access the estate plan, such as a spouse or child, obviously need access to the lock combo!) In any case, put the plan in a spot that’s likely to be protected from flooding or fire. For example, a dark, dank basement may not be the best place to keep your original estate plan documents. However, in your home office, in your desk’s top locked drawer (assuming others have a key), would be a much better spot.

Caution: No Treasure Hunts

Some people think “hiding” their will is a solution to any security concerns. This, however, inhibits accessibility! Sure, people may not be able to find your will while you’re living, but that also means your loved ones are unlikely to find it when they need it in the case that you suddenly pass away or are incapacitated and cannot communicate where it is. This is problematic for multiple reasons. First, your wishes cannot formally be known and therefore not fulfilled, and if the document cannot be found, the presumption is you either did not make a plan or you intended to revoke/destroy it. In the case of your death, the court will then act as if you died “intestate,” or without a will. The long probate process will ensue, and after some substantial court fees, your estate will pass to your heirs-at-law as determined by state law. (Almost everyone I’ve ever met would have their estate pass according to their terms and not some impersonal law.)

Safety Deposit Box

 

I know many folks who keep their important documents like birth certificates and social security cards in their safety deposit box. And when it comes to your original estate plan documents, your safety deposit box is a good option. Except, and this is hugely important, the safety deposit box must be readily accessible by executors, agents, and other fiduciaries. This requires making sure that your bank or credit union has the “right people on file.” Also, don’t assume that just because both you and your spouse have access to the safety deposit box, that is sufficient. What if there’s a joint accident or joint disaster and you’re both incapacitated? Sit down and talk with your bank or credit union to make absolutely certain those who need access to the safety deposit box will definitely have access in case of an emergency. Otherwise, a court order may be required before your financial institution will grant access, which equates to more bureaucratic hold-ups costing time, money, and even worse, adding additional stress for loved ones.

safety deposit box

 With Your Designated Representative

So far, we’ve been talking about your original estate plan documents (with “wet” signatures). An original is always better than a copy. But a copy is better than nothing.  Consider giving a copy of your estate plan to the executor of your will or successor trustee of your revocable living trust, and other named fiduciaries.

The person you designate as your personal representative has the important job of settling your estate and they will need to be armed with your estate plan in order to reference your wishes and provide proof that they are authorized to take certain actions. This option makes a lot of sense considering this representative will have immediate cause to reference the paperwork following your death.

two people drinking tea

Up in the Cloud

I always recommend you retain a paper copy of your original estate plan, but there are many valid and secure options of also storing your key documents in the digital cloud. Like any financial, health, or other personal information accessible online, make certain you have a strong password and security. And, just like a paper version, at least your executor and other designated representatives will need to be able to access the plan when necessary. Whether that’s through an online beneficiary designation or by allocating the password to your executor or another trusted custodian, that’s up to you.

To recap: an estate plan can make a wonderful Valentine’s Day gift that shows love and commitment to your favorite people. And, since you spent time, effort, and money to create an estate plan that meets your goals, it’s essential to keep it in proper storage. Remember: if no one knows you created a plan or no one has access to it, it’s as if you never had one at all.

Before you can store your estate plan, you NEED an estate plan! The best place to get started is with my Estate Plan Questionnaire, or contact me.