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cutting into a pie

Pi (π) is the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. Pi is a constant number, meaning that for all circles of any size, Pi will be the same. (It’s also a great day to deliver pie to Gordon Fischer Law Firm…any kind will do!)

Like geometry, in estate planning there are many variables, and some constants, too. Ironically, one of the constants in estate planning is change. And as your life and circumstances changes, your estate plan needs to change too.

Change & Your Estate Plan

Let’s assume you’ve gone to an estate planning lawyer, and you have (at the very least) the six “must have” estate planning documents. That’s great, well done. (You can read all about these six documents here.).

But remember you also need to keep these documents updated and current.

Major Life Events

If you undergo a major life event, you may well want to (re)visit with your estate planning lawyer, to see if this life event requires changing your estate plan through different provisions, tools, and strategies.

What do I mean by a major life event? Some common such events include:

  • The birth or adoption of a child or grandchild
  • Marriage or divorce
  • Illness or disability of a spouse or beneficiary
  • Purchasing a home or other large asset
  • Moving to another state
  • Large increases or decreases in the value of assets, such as investments
  • If you or your spouse receives a large inheritance or gift
  • If any family member, or other heir dies, becomes ill, or becomes disabled
  • Launch or closure of a business

This is just a short list of life events that should cause you to re consider your estate plan. There are many others.

Changes in goals

It’s not just life changes, though. It may be that your overall goals for your estate plan have changed over time. You may want to change the amounts of inheritances. As your financial situation changes, you may want to increase, or decrease, your charitable bequests.

Laws are dynamic and changing

And, it’s not just changes in your own life you need to think about, either. Congress, the Iowa legislature, and the courts are constantly changing the laws. When the rules change, so too must your estate plan.

Meet the Donor Family

To illustrate when estate plans should be updated, let’s look at the Donor Family. Jill and Dave have been married for 25 years and have four grown children. They executed a common-sense estate plan a few years ago.

Since that time, the Donors have gone through many changes, as you would expect, and as all families have. Should Jill and Dave updating their estate plan to reflect changes in their family’s circumstance? Consider the following:

Divorce

One of the Donor kids filed for a divorce from his wife. Jim and Carol need to update their estate plan, since they decided they now want to exclude the ex-spouse as a beneficiary.

Changes in financial status

Jill’s uncle passed away and left her a great deal of money. The Donors need to determine how this inheritance will affect their current plan and future estate tax liability. The Donors may want to be more generous to their favorite charities. They may want to talk to their estate planning lawyer about charitable giving through a planned gift, such as a charitable gift annuity or charitable remainder trust.

Birth

 

Our example couple’s youngest child recently announced that she and her spouse are expecting their first child. Jill and Dave must update their estate plan to provide for the new grandchild.

Major changes in health

The Donor’s youngest child was in a serious car accident, which resulted in a severe disability. He can no longer work, and is receiving government disability benefits. The Donors will want to seriously consider setting up a special needs trust. This type of trust will allow a beneficiary to receive inheritances, without it being considered income by the government for qualification purposes.

New real estate outside Iowa

Jill and Dave recently bought a vacation home in Arizona. The vacation home may well be affected by Arizona laws. In any case, the Donors’ estate plan should reflect this new asset.

vw bus in arizona

As you can see the Donor Family has many reasons to revisit their estate plan, and more than likely, so do you! In between bites of your favorite pie, review your current estate plan to make sure its current. (If you still need an estate plan, the best place to start is with my Estate Plan Questionnaire.) Additionally, I can always be found at gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com and 515-371-6077.

Iowa Court Rule 39.18

I regularly help and encourage my clients to complete business succession planning. So, I was immensely interested in fully understanding and helping to explain the Iowa Court Rule 39.18 which mandates some aspects of practice succession planning for active Iowa lawyers. I wrote extensively on the subject in a four-part series for The Iowa Lawyer (you can find links to all the articles here). But, with the deadline for compliance fast approaching it’s useful to have just the basic. The ISBA recently published my rundown of nothing but the essential in The Iowa Lawyer Weeklyand for convenience I’m publishing it here as well.


This short article directly informs every Iowa private practitioner precisely what s/he needs to know about new Iowa Court Rule 39.18. Under the Iowa Court Rule 39.18, Iowa-licensed lawyers must take steps to prepare for their own disability or death. New questions that are related to Rule 39.18 compliance will be included on the Iowa Client Security Commission 2018 Client Security Reports to be filed via the Iowa Office of Professional Regulation between Dec. 26, 2018 and March 10, 2018 without penalty.

Two Tiers

Iowa Court Rule 39.18 is divided into two tiers; the first tier is mandatory; the second tier is optional. The second, optional tier is very helpful, and I’d urge every Iowa layer to seriously look at implementing it. Considering that I write this in mid-December, however, it may be wise for Iowa lawyers to make certain they are in full compliance with the mandatory provisions, and give the optional provisions more full and careful consideration in 2018. Since this article is about just the basics, I’m just going to discuss only the mandatory provisions of Iowa Court Rule 39.18.

planner on desk next to computer

Choose Designee and Custodian

Every Iowa attorney in private practice must choose and identify both a designated representative and a custodian. The term designee representative(s) is defined, while the term custodian is not. The designated representative (hereinafter “designee”) must be either an:

  1. active Iowa attorney in good standing;
  2. Iowa law firm that includes Iowa attorneys in good standing (including the attorney’s own firm); or
  3. qualified attorney-servicing association.

A “qualified attorney-servicing association” is a bar association, all or part of whose members are admitted to practice law in the state of Iowa; a company authorized to sell attorneys professional liability insurance in Iowa; or an Iowa bank with trust powers issued by the Iowa Division of Banking.

(Important note: Earlier this month The Iowa State Bar Association Board of Governors authorized The ISBA to serve as a qualified attorney servicing association.) Again, the term “custodian” in not defined. The custodian can be anyone – a fellow lawyer, friend, spouse, administrative assistant, whomever.

Clients Lists and Client Files

Additionally, every Iowa attorney in private practice is responsible for the following: (1) maintaining a current list of active clients in a location accessible by the designee; (2) identifying the custodian to the designee; and (3) identifying the locations of the client list, electronic and paper files, records, passwords, and any other security protocols required to access the electronic files and records for the custodian and, ultimately, for the designee.

Client list Iowa Court Rule 39.18 files

Death or Disability

Iowa Court Rule 39.18 kicks into action only in two extreme circumstances: your death or your disability (a disability so severe you can no longer practice law, whether temporarily or permanently). Upon your death or disability, your designee is given broad authority, including the right to review client files (whether paper or electronic or both), notify each client of your death or disability, serve as a successor signatory for any client trust accounts, prepare final trust accountings for clients, make trust account disbursements, properly dispose of inactive files, and arrange for storage of files and trust account records. Also, the designee is authorized to access passwords and other security protocols required to access electronic files and records. Finally, as a “catch all” provision, the designee may determine whether there is need for other immediate action to protect the interests of clients.

Read More About Iowa Court Rule 39.18

If you would like to read deeper beyond these basics, click to the September through December 2017 issues of The Iowa Lawyer from the online archives to read our four-part series. In the series, all the elements (mandatory and supplementary) of Iowa Court Rule 39.18 are reviewed and explained in detail.

There is also a list of additional resources that can be found here. If you’re an active lawyer in Iowa help your fellow counselors out and share this piece with them so they will be prepared not only for the Iowa Client Security Commission 2018 Client Security Reports, but in the off chance of unexpected death or a disability. If you have any questions as you set your plans in place contact me by email or phone (515-371-6077).