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September calendar

Recently my social media feeds were alight with friends and family member’s grinning kiddos holding signs announcing their first day of a new grade. It made me nostalgic! While I wouldn’t want to repeat law school all over again, I do think it’s never too late to head back to the classroom—proverbial or real. So, the GFLF is heading back to school with lessons in English (like legal words/phrases of the day), reading (GoFisch book club) history, finance and the like. Today’s lesson on planned giving crosses over between business and economics, and it’s super important for donors of all gift amounts and nonprofit pros alike.

Back to school

What is planned giving?

Planned giving is the process of charitably donating planned gifts. A planned gift is a charitable donation that is arranged in the present and allocated at a future date. A planned gift is often, but not always, donated through a will or trust. (I would say this is true 80-90% of the time; put another way, planned gifts are bequests 80-90% of the time). As such, planned gifts are very often granted after the donor’s death.

Besides charitable gifts made through wills and trusts after death, other planned gifts include charitable gift annuities; charitable remainder trusts (along with the entire alphabet soup of CRATS; CRUTS; NIMCRUTS; FLIPCRUTS; etc.); charitable lead trusts, and remainder interest/life estates in real property. All these gifting tools/techniques/vehicles I’ve discussed previously, sometimes numerous times.

What is a Nonprofit?

  • You give $20 to a person you meet on the street who lost his bus ticket home.
  • At your local gas station, there is a collection jar for a local child with leukemia. You donate your change.
  • You leave money in your will for your niece Jane, hoping she uses it to continue her collegiate studies in engineering.
  • You have a neighbor who suffers from dementia. You and your friends decide to have an informal walk to raise awareness about the disease and raise money for your neighbor’s health care needs.

While noble, these are not examples of “charitable giving,” as we use the term here. In this context, we are talking about charitable giving to an organization formed under 501c3 of the Internal Revenue Service Tax Code. A 501c3 agency can be known by several terms in general usage, including “nonprofit organization” and “public charity.” For simplicity’s sake, we’ll use the term nonprofit throughout.

Nonprofits cover an extremely broad swath of types of organizations, including schools, churches, hospitals, museums, social services organizations, animal welfare groups, and community foundations.

Nonprofits Must Embrace Planned Gifts

Sometimes nonprofits are overwhelmed at the thought of expansive planned giving because of the number and complexity of some of the planned giving vehicles. How does this match up when you want to donate a less obvious gift than cash, such as stocks and bonds or grain? Nonprofits need to expand their ability to accept gifts of many varieties for at least three reasons:

Craft Beer Factor

The first reason I call the “craft beer factor.” (Bear with me here for a moment). I’m old enough to remember when there were just two kinds of beer. Don’t believe me? You should, as it was immortalized in one of the most famous advertising campaigns of all time–“tastes great, less filling!” This ad campaign strongly implied there were really just two types of beers.

craft beer on table

Then came the craft beer movement. I’m not sure whether craft beers were a response to consumers, or whether craft beers created a demand; presumably both. In any case, now a place like Toppling Goliath Brewing Company in Decorah, Iowa, has about thirty varieties of beers (this is based on an informal count from their website).

Now any retail establishment which sells beer must offer lots and lots of different kinds of beer. Any retail establishment which isn’t able to offer its customers wide variety risks irrelevance, or worse.

This is true not just of beer, but of everything. Another quick example– McDonald’s has around 145 menu items, that’s up from about 85 items in 2007. Also, McDonald’s now offers breakfast items not just in the morning, but all day-long.

Consumers want what they want, when they want, how they want.

Donors expect and often demand the opportunity to use many different options to assist their favorite charities. No longer can nonprofits simply ask folks to pony up cash, or just accept credit cards. Donors want to be able to converse with their fave charity and discuss using their whole portfolio. Nonprofits need to be able to accept, and intelligently discuss, gifting of many different types of non-cash assets.

A nonprofit which doesn’t offer its supporters a wide variety of giving options risks irrelevance, or even worse fates! So, as a donor, if you’re interested in donating an asset that your favorite nonprofit doesn’t typically facilitate, connect them with an experienced nonprofit attorney to make the gift a reality.

Planned Gifts Consist Overwhelmingly of Bequests

Second, planned giving is still mostly about wills and trusts. As already stated, I estimate 80-90% of planned gifts are bequests. Simple! Nonprofits should put substantial efforts to encouraging increased, larger testamentary bequests. Donors who already have an estate plan, but didn’t realize they could designate their favorite organizations as beneficiaries should contact an estate planning attorney.

Everyone can Understand Planned Giving!

Be it strategies for a monthly giving program or facilitating complex planned giving vehicles like NIMCRUTs, the opportunities for continuous learning about different planned giving technique are seemingly endless! And, there are so many different options, that all donors should feel great about supporting their fave causes with tax-wise gifts that work best for them. I strive to offer free information that breaks down different aspects of planned giving in human terms, as well as promoting community opportunities/events for nonprofit professionals.

heart on blue wood

Still need help understanding planned giving or any particular tool or technique? Want assistance coordinating a complex gift? Reach out to me anytime. I offer a free one-hour consultation to anyone and everyone. You can contact at my email (gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com) or on my cell (515-371-6077). I’d truly love to hear from you.

Fancy estate planning pen on notebook

Estate planning documents express your wishes in the event of your disability or death. However, estate planning documents must follow certain formalities to be legally enforceable. If your estate planning documents lack these formalities, they may not be enforceable, which could be disastrous for your loved ones and beneficiaries.

Iowa Requirements

Keep in mind estate planning requirements vary state by state. Let’s look at a Last Will and Testament, just one of six “must have” estate planning documents every Iowan needs. For a will to be valid in Iowa, it must comply with these requirements:

  • Maker (testator) must be at least 18 years of age or married;
  • Maker must be of “sound mind”;
  • Will must be written;
  • Will must be signed by maker in presence of at least two competent witnesses, at least 16 years of age, who also sign in presence of maker and each other; and,
  • Maker must tell the witnesses it is his or her will.

Formalities Matter

It is important to have a reputable legal professional handle your estate planning. If you don’t, you risk missing one or more legal formalities, which might make your entire estate plan worthless. For this reason, avoid creating a will, or for that matter any estate planning documents, through an online service.

Starting an estate plan may seem like a daunting chore, but it doesn’t have to be. The easiest place to start is with my free, no-obligation Estate Plan Questionnaire. Of course, you may always reach out to me at any time with any questions or concerns.

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).

football on field

For two formidable teams (New England Patriots vs. Los Angles Rams), it’s the culmination of a season. (And for us, it’s a great excuse to indulge in all the best tailgating snacks.) It’s a grueling seven-month schedule with tons of variables from pre-season training camp to regular season kick-off to post-season playoffs.

Just like all the games leading up to the Super Bowl, a lot can happen throughout a lifetime. So many variables, so many strategies, upsets, and so many potential outcomes.

While it may be difficult to ponder the inevitably of your own timer running out, preparation for what happens after your season ends is indeed necessary.

football estate plan

The Main Players

Estate plan – An estate plan is the whole playbook, generally containing the following documents: your will; healthcare power of attorney; financial power of attorney; disposition of personal property; and final disposition of remains.

Will – A will is a superstar which can accomplish so much for your team. For example, who will quarterback the distribution of your property at the end of the game? You need to make certain the will is well crafted, solid, and can stand up in court. Keep in mind though, important assets such as retirement assets and investment accounts may well contain beneficiary designations that actually trump your will.

Health care power of attorney  & financial power of attorney – Don’t let a sudden disability completely take you out of the game. Have someone strong come off the bench to carry you to your personal goals.

Trust – You have lots of different options with this multi-tool MVP. A trust can help your team in so many different ways and provide you huge advantages in every facet of the game.

Get a Good Playbook!

Thorough planning is the best way to plan for the end of your season so that you and your family are never caught unprepared. When you are no longer around to coach and care for the rest of your “team,” make sure they are both provided for and are provided training on how to keep pushing forward by settling your affairs. A comprehensive estate plan, written by an experienced estate planner, is the best way to do this.

No ‘I’ in Team

Your loved ones and close friends are all a part of your team; part of being a strong team player is including them on the plays you’re making. Discuss important aspects of your estate plan with the people it involves to avoid any confusion or conflict when it comes times for them to carry out your wishes. For instance, if you have minor children (under age 18) you’re going to want to establish legal guardianship if the worst happens and you’re no longer around to care for them. You’ll want to discuss with your chosen guardians ahead of time to make sure they’re willing and available to carry out the responsibility.

Lineup Adjustments

Pro football coaches switch up who’s starting for the best winning strategy. Similarly, you may well need to make adjustments to your estate plan “lineup” as things inevitably change over the course of your life. Big events like marriage, birth of a child/grandchild, moving to a different state, a large change in financial status, divorce, and other significant changes are good reason to review your designated representatives, beneficiaries, and overall goals.

Charity Factor

Pro football players make bank, but many also make significant contributions to charities they care about. Some NFL players have founded their own charitable foundation, while others focus on a few nonprofits whose missions they care deeply about. For instance, Chris Long, the Eagles defensive end, announced last fall he will donate his entire salary ($1 million) from the season to educational charities. Most players also work together as a team to give back to their communities. The league as a whole also supports building awareness for nonprofits through initiatives like “My Cause, My Cleats.”

Given their high profile sports status, these players also help inspire folks across the country to do the same. (In one great example, these football fans donated to NFL players’ favorite nonprofits!) You too can be a fierce philanthropist, but without actually having to sprint, throw, or sweat! You can include your favorite charities in your estate plan as beneficiaries. Then there are the other charitable giving tools that can be included as a part of your “end game” like charitable gift annuities and the charitable remainder trust.

Winning Score

I cannot predict who will win the Super Bowl today, but I can say without a doubt that you never know when the game is going to change. You never know when you (and/or your team members) are going to need any one of the documents a part of your estate plan. So, you need to have your “playbook” written out ASAP…well, you can wait until after the big game!

The best place to start on your estate plan is with my free, no-obligation Estate Plan Questionnaire. You can also shoot me an email or give me a call at 515-371-6077 to discuss your situation (or football).

stop hand on sign

Based on every statistic I’ve seen, the majority of Americans don’t want anything to do with estate planning or the perceived headaches that come with it. However, making excuses to avoid investing in a valuable legal set of documents (that comes with numerous benefits) will do nothing to cement your legacy and intent for transfer of assets.

Here are some of the excuses I’ve heard from people about why they don’t have an estate plan:

  • “I don’t have any assets, and just a whole bunch of debt.”
  • “Isn’t that just for rich, older people?”
  • “I don’t need an estate plan my wife and kids are going to inherit everything I own.”
  • “I’m super healthy, so I don’t think I would ever need a health care power of attorney.”
  • “My spouse can take care of it.”
  • “Getting a will made for myself is too expensive and time consuming.”
  • “If I talk too much about it, I might jinx myself.”

Yet, everyone over 18-years old, regardless of age, debts, assets, and marital status should have an estate plan in place. (Here are the six “must have” estate planning documents you can focus on initially.) In the beginning it may feel uncomfortable talking about the details of your estate plan—that’s normal. But, there is deep and lasting peace of mind in knowing that there is a plan in place in the event of your incapacitation or untimely death, which far outweighs any discomfort.

So, cast off all excuses by embracing the benefits of having a strong estate plan in place. The benefits include, but are certainly not limited to, peace of mind, financial security for your family, established guardianships for your children, reducing taxes, fees, and costs, and saving your family and friends untold time, trouble, and heartbreak.

Have questions? Need more information?

A great place to start is the Estate Plan Questionnaire. Of course, feel free to reach out any time. You can contact me by email at Gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com or give me a call at 515-371-6077.

Estate planning revisions

You have an estate plan? High five! You are already better off than most of your fellow citizens. In fact, numerous surveys have shown that about half of adult Americans do not even have a basic will. So, kudos to you if you’ve already knocked out this major life decision and planning initiative. If you already have a will, there are at least five major scenarios in which you should revisit and make changes accordingly:

  1. Moving out-of-state or out-of-country. What makes a will legal and valid in Iowa is not the same in other states, like, say, Ohio or Rhode Island. Each state has its own set of laws governing wills, probate, and so on. Also, if you buy property in another state and/or set-up a secondary residence, this must be included in your estate plan.
  2. If something happens to one of your beneficiaries or fiduciaries. Life happens to everyone else in your plan, and sometimes this means beneficiary passes away or a fiduciary retires. Reviewing your plan’s key contact list at least annually, in addition to on an as-needed basis, will keep everything fresh and relevant.
  3. If your marriage status changes. Needless to say, you will want to update your estate plan in the case of a marriage or divorce. Most estate planners you’ll meet can attest to horror stories on behalf of their clients of what happens when an ex-spouse inherits a huge sum of money, merely because an estate plan wasn’t properly updated.
  4. If you have kids (or more kids). You’ll want to ensure that in case something happens to you that your children are going to be protected by a trusted guardian. And, also, presumably you’ll want to add the children as beneficiaries, etc.
  5. If your financial situation changes significantly. This includes inheriting money or complex assets. Perhaps your business accelerates astronomically. Maybe you have what professional advisors call “a liquidity event,” (e.g., you’re flush with cash). Your estate plan, and its distributions, will need to be revisited to accommodate such changes in fortune.

This, however, is just the tip of the iceberg! While your estate plan never expires, many other situations involving shifts in personal/financial goals, changes in needs (such as deciding you need a trust instead of just a basic estate plan), and even changes to legislation can mean estate planning revisions.

Have questions? Need more information?

If you think you may need to revise your estate plan and would like a free consult feel free to reach out at any time! You can contact me by email at Gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com or give me a call at 515-371-6077.

Estate planning is all about strategy—leaving the right assets and inheritances to the right beneficiaries; timely distributions of the estate; and avoiding as many taxes and fees as possible. Another strategic move is deciding whether you and your spouse should use the same lawyer, or whether you should each have your own lawyer.

If you are married, please note you have the option of hiring separate attorneys for your estate planning needs.

Though the goals of most married persons are the same when it comes to wills, trusts, and estate planning, some married individuals (especially individuals who have children from prior marriages) have differing views on the ownership of property and beneficiaries, and naming executors, trustees, and guardians.

Likewise, some married individuals have private information they do not wish to share with their spouse — information that may be essential to the estate planning process that would have to be disclosed to the attorney and, therefore, disclosed to the spouse if I am representing both spouses.

Additionally, sometimes married individuals have “awkward” questions they wish to ask the attorney — questions they would not be comfortable asking in the presence of their spouse, such as how a divorce might affect their estate plan.

By obtaining separate attorneys, you would be able to:

  1. share in confidence any secrets or private information with your attorney that may be important to the estate planning process;
  2. ask in confidence whatever questions you may have; and
  3. receive completely confidential advice and counsel. 

If represented jointly, you will be waiving and losing all three of the above rights with respect to your spouse.

If you decide to obtain separate attorneys, this firm would be pleased to represent either one of you separately. If you are married and decide you would like this firm to represent both of you, then complete this Estate Plan Questionnaire jointly (please do not fill out two separate forms).

Joint Representation

 

Two brides in white wedding dresses

For many married couples, joint representation is a likely choice. 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.

It’s important for your lawyer to avoid conflicts of interest, so they can uphold and respect your attorney-client privilege. If you choose to have joint representation you may waive the conflict of interest clause so that you may be represented together. Or, of course, you can seek separate legal counsel and not sign such a clause.

This communication is critical if you opt for joint representation. Without it, disaster can strike mid-meeting with the lawyer if couples disagree about which child is most responsible in terms of estate execution or how much of a trust fund each beneficiary should receive at age 18.

Individual Representation

 

couple holding hands in green space

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.


Have questions? Need more information? A great place to start is by downloading my Estate Plan Questionnaire, or feel free to reach out at any time; my email is Gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com and cell phone is 515-371-6077. 

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.

money in wallet

We talk about taxes and fees a lot in estate planning because if you don’t have a quality plan in place your estate will likely be hit with taxes and fees to a varying degree. Actual figures depend on the gross value of your estate, what state you lived in, and what strategies you employed (such as a living revocable trust) that help to reduce or even eliminate taxes and fees.

Recently I wrote about one specific tax that only applies to states—the state estate tax. If you don’t have time to read the full post and live in Iowa, the bottom line is that generally you won’t need to worry about it. Unlike places like Minnesota and Illinois, Iowa does not have a state estate tax. However, Iowa DOES have a special “death tax” that only six states in the U.S. have.

What is an Inheritance Tax and how is Different than an Estate Tax?

At first glance the inheritance tax seems mighty similar to the estate tax (both state and federal). Indeed, both are collected after someone’s death. However, an estate tax is assessed by the overall gross value of a person’s estate. This figure totals up all assets passed to all beneficiaries, regardless of their relationship to to the decedent (the person who passed away).

Any estate taxes owed are paid out of the estate assets before beneficiaries receive their distributions. And, the estate executor is responsible for making certain any state or federal estate taxes owed are fulfilled.

The inheritance tax, instead, is a tax levied on assets and property certain beneficiaries have inherit from someone who has died. I say “certain” because in most states the relationship of the beneficiary to the person who died determines if inheritance tax is owed or not. Amount of tax owed is calculated on each eligible beneficiary’s share of the estate and the beneficiary’s relationship to the decedent.

The beneficiary subject to estate taxes is personally responsible for filing the tax. In Iowa this means filling out Form 706 and filing before the due date on the last day of ninth month after death.

Iowa’s Inheritance Tax

The good news in light of all this tax talk is that Iowa’s inheritance tax only applies in certain situations. Not every Iowan who passes away will render their heirs subject to more taxes. For instance, Iowa’s inheritance tax does not apply if the estate is valued at $25,000 or less.

The following, among others, are exempt from Iowa’s inheritance tax:

  • Spouses
  • Beneficiaries who are descendants including children (biological and legally adopted), stepchildren, grandchildren, and great-grand-children.
  • Beneficiaries who are lineal ascendants such as parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents.
  • Life insurance
  • Annuities purchased under a retirement or employee pension plan
  • Assets left to U.S. charitable, religious, and educational organizations

As you can see, most people won’t ever have to deal with Iowa’s inheritance tax. So, who isn’t exempt as a beneficiary? Domestic partners, friends, and non-lineal relatives such as nieces, nephews, siblings, aunts, uncles, and cousins are all subject to the inheritance tax on the assets they inherit. Assets bequest to corporations or social/fraternal organizations don’t fit the qualifications as “educational, religious, or charitable” and are therefore not exempt.

Iowa’s max inheritance tax rate is 15%. (Which is better than our neighboring state of Nebraska, which has the highest top inheritance tax rate of 18%.)

In case you were wondering, there is no federal inheritance tax to worry about.

How do I Know if my Estate or Beneficiaries will owe Taxes?

pyramid on a US bill

Consult with an experienced estate planner and other professional advisors so that may they thoroughly evaluate if your estate will be subject to estate or inheritance taxes. Regardless, it’s a good idea to start looking into strategies and estate planning tools to reduce the burden of (all) taxes on your beneficiaries.

One way to do that during your lifetime is to gift (cash or non-cash) assets during your lifetime. The gift tax rate is currently at $15,000. Meaning the IRS will allow you to give away up to that amount, per donee (person receiving the gift), every year, without facing a gift tax.

I also highly recommend consulting an estate planner and other related trusted professional advisors to review your estate planning goals, financial situation, and assets. There are all sorts of unique considerations people face in that demand a thorough review and thoughtful solutions.

Have any questions or owe inheritance taxes yourself? Don’t hesitate to contact me at gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com or by phone at 515-371-6077.

 

Rows of 100 dollar bills

There’s that pragmatic, and slightly depressing saying that the only sure things in life are death and taxes. But what about taxes on death? Just like you can’t escape taxes in life, they government can tax your estate at death. Indeed, it’s often referred to as the “death tax.”  And, just like taxpayers file both federal and state income taxes, there are both federal and state estate taxes.

People having a meeting at a desk with papers

What is an Estate Tax?

When a U.S. resident dies, an estate tax may be levied against the gross estate, which includes the fair market value (FMV) of all owned property, as well as any assets the deceased had interest in (e.g. assets like life insurance). Think of it like the gross income figure you calculate for income tax returns.

Federal Estate Tax

Let’s start with federal estate taxes. Because this is a federal tax, this applies regardless of what state you die in.

Not too long ago, I reviewed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act’s (TCJA) impact on estate planning. (Why? Because smart estate planning accounts for taxes and employs strategies that minimize said taxes.) One of the most significant changes from the “new tax law” was with the estate tax exemption. This is the figure subtracted from an estate’s gross value in order to calculate federal taxes.

For tax years 2018 through 2025, the exemption from estate, gift, and generation-skipping taxes was raised from $5.49 million per individual to an approximated $11.2 million. (Why do I say approximated? Because the exemption base is indexed, so the base for the 2017 tax year was $5 million; for the 2018 tax year, the base is now $10 million and indexed for inflation.) In plain terms, this means each individual should be able to pass over $11 million to their heirs before any estate, gift, and generation-skipping taxes apply.

If you’re married, this means your estate exemption now equals $22.4 million. (Or, you could think of it like each couple now has an additional $11.2 million in assets available to gift or make a testamentary transfer with thoughtful estate planning.)

The bottom line: if your estate is worth less than the federal exemption rates, it will be free from the estate taxes after you die. If you have an estate valued at more than the exemption threshold (and smart estate planning strategies are not appropriately implemented to shield assets from being counted in your estate’s gross value), your taxable estate will met with a tax rate of up to 40 percent.

State Estate Taxes

The caveat (and good news for residents of the majority of states) is that not all states have a state estate tax…including Iowa! Currently, 12 states and D.C. also impose an estate tax on residents. It’s important to note that the exemption rates for these state estate taxes are much lower than the federal exemption rate. For instance, our neighbors to the east in Illinois have an exemption rate of $4 million and a graduated marginal tax rate of of o.8 to 16 percent.

Here’s an incredibly helpful map from Tax Foundation that illustrates this.

estate tax map

Note: figures may have changed since time of publication of this map.

Is there any reason an Iowan would need to account for state estate taxes in their estate planning? Only if they own real estate in another state. Let’s consider a hypothetical example to explain this better.

Alice with her Minnesota Lake House

Alice is an Iowa resident. She died in March 2018 owning a vacation home on her favorite lake in Minnesota. Alice’s gross estate totals $2.8 million. What estate taxes will Alice’s estate be responsible for?

Iowa’s Inheritance Tax

While Iowans largely escape the state estate tax, there is a state inheritance tax. The inheritance tax is different than the estate tax (although they they are often incorrectly used interchangeably). The estate tax is based purely on gross value and regardless of who inherits what; the inheritance tax is only charged against the share of inheritance of certain estate beneficiaries.

There’s a lot to note about Iowa’s inheritance tax, so I’ll do a deep dive into that here on the GoFisch blog later this week!

Questions about how taxes (and other fees) may affect your estate plan? Need to revise your current plan after changes to the tax code? Don’t hesitate to contact me via email at gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com or by phone (515-371-6077).