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We the people close up

We’re headed “back to school” on the blog this month, and I couldn’t pass up today’s fantastic excuse for a short American history lesson!

Fourth of July gets all the attention for red, white, and blue pride, but Constitution Day is a lesser-known, but still important reason to celebrate America’s values of freedom, democracy, and liberty. Constitution Day commemorates the formation and signing of the U.S. Constitution on September 17, 1787. The Constitution was signed in Pennsylvania at the Constitutional Convention by 39 men including Alexander Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, and George Washington.

Mount Rushmore

There’s a wealth of American history I encourage you to explore to understand in full the lead-up of events that led to the execution of the Constitution. TIME wrote a great piece and the National Archives offers up some great information.

Constitution Day also stands to recognize everyone who has become an American citizen. According to USCIS, more than 260 naturalization ceremonies were held across the nation as part of this year’s Constitution Week. In fact, before 2004, the day was called Citizenship Day.

Statute of Liberty

For me, the Constitution represents one of the most important legal foundations, on which the world’s oldest constitutional republic is build. That said, we must never forget the privilege it grants us and the duty we all have as citizens to protect it through civic engagement and knowledge. What does Constitution Day mean to you? Tell me in the comments below!

“The strength of the Constitution lies entirely in the determination of each citizen to defend it. Only if every single citizen feels duty bound to do his share in this defense are the constitutional rights secure.”
― Albert Einstein

While it’s not the Constitution, your estate plan is similar in the way that it’s a guiding document that guides people in the future as to your goals and intentions for your property, body, charitable giving, and what you want to happen with the people and pets you care for. So, you can think of yourself as a “founding father” of the legacy you want to leave. Ready to put your “John Hancock” on an estate plan? Get started with my free Estate Plan Questionnaire or contact me.

red chairs in conference room

Undoubtedly knowledge is power when it comes to understanding how different laws directly affect you. Indeed, living in a modern society mean that an interplay of laws govern pretty much every aspect of our lives in one way or another—even when it comes to death. That’s why I’m dedicated to breaking down terms (like in my “legal word of the day” series) and explaining processes (like how to form a 501(c)(3) in Iowa) related to GFLF’s core services. Because even if you’re not an attorney, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t/can’t learn about the interplay of different laws  Similarly, I think it’s important to get the word out about events in the community that can help grow knowledge on important topics like estate planning.

The Iowa State Bar Association (ISBA) announced they’re producing a seminar series called the “People’s Law School.” The first public information event will focus on three super important estate planning elements:

While the seminar is being billed as one for “older Iowan issues,” I have to remind that everyone needs an estate plan! Even young professionals and definitely married couples. Definitely people with kids and people with pets! Even college students can benefit from putting a power of attorney in place. And, especially working and middle-class folks need a up-to-date estate plan.

At the seminar, attendees can have a living will or medical power of attorney form notarized at the event if they bring their completed documents.

The session will be held 5:30-7 p.m. on September 19 at the ISBA Headquarters in Des Moines. Interested? You can register online here.

According to their website, the ISBA will “identify other topics of public interest and host similar seminars in the future,” so be on the look out for other upcoming opportunities to learn more about the law as a part of your life.

If you’ve dropped all the excuses and committed to making your estate plan happen, that’s great! It’s easy to get started with my free Estate Plan Questionnaire. Questions or want to discuss your estate? Don’t hesitate to contact me via email or by phone at 515-371-6077.

woman reading on phone with red nails

The July edition of GoFisch is live! This month’s edition features:

Spotify playlist cover art

 

  • A rundown on the website’s new features and fresh look
  • A curated Spotify playlist for when you’re working hard, but want to feel like you’re on summer vacation
  • Iowa-based nonprofit & philanthropy news
  • Must-read blog post highlights
  • Facebook Live video featuring me and the subject of estate planning

Like what you read? Don’t forget to subscribe to GoFisch and tell your friends. Here at GFLF we like to think of it as the least boring law firm newsletter you could hope to read.

Buckingham Palace with gate

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

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

An Unavoidable Unknown: Life Expectancy

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

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

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

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

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

queen's crown

Royal Benefits of Revocable Living Trusts

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

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

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

cash and checkbook

When estate planning you’re answering many of the unknowns for the future by deciding to whom you want your stuff—your cash assets, real estate, personal property, physical body, to name just a few—to pass to and when. You also have to consider some tough topics about your own mortality and imagine a future for your loved ones that doesn’t involve you in it. Estate planning also has a little bit of a learning curve—figuring out what strategies and documents you may need to help you meet your tax, financial, charitable giving, and estate goals and why. (Just one of the many reasons a qualified estate planner is a must.)

The one thing that shouldn’t be a mystery or an unknown cost is the cost of an estate plan. If you’re going to invest in a quality set of legal documents that never expire, tailored to your personal situation and intentions, you should know what you’re getting yourself into. Rate Sheet Checklist

That’s why Gordon Fischer Law Firm is always transparent with estate planning package rates. You can find them at the end of my Estate Plan Questionnaire (the first of many important documents a part of your plan) and you can also find them on this (super shareable!) estate plan package rate sheet.

Don’t have an estate plan? Don’t let any questions about costs hold you back. Get in touch with Gordon at gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com or by phone at (515) 371-6077.

 

flower-pink-mothers-day

To all the moms out there (including my own!), happy Mother’s Day! We all have our own unique relationships and therefore unique lists with an endless number of things we can and should thank our moms for. But the one thing we all have in common is there are not enough words and never the perfect gifts that fully encompass how thankful we are for all they’ve given us. Bath salts, candles, and lotions are nice. A massage or pedicure sounds even better! These gifts are kind, but they pale in comparison to all the tangible and intangible things you mother has given you over the years.

Mother's Day GFLF

That’s why I propose this year you give your mom a gift that’s unconventional, yet incredibly valuable..an estate plan! Why is this one of the greatest gifts for a loved one?

  • An estate plan leads to peace of mind. Your mom can feel good knowing if the unexpected happens, then the legal “stuff” surrounding your life is accounted for.
  • Estate planning means that you (the testator) get to make the decisions about who you want to have what stuff and when.
  • Estate planning isn’t just about death. Documents like financial and health care powers of attorney play an important role if your mom were to be incapacitated by an debilitating accident or illness. Everyone wants the ability to choose the people they want to make important decisions regarding their money and health instead of a court appointed guardian or conservator.
  • Estate planning means your mom can plan for her estate to benefit the causes and organizations she cares for through charitable bequests.
  • Estate planning saves your mother’s family (like you!) time and money in attorney’s fee and court costs in the probate process.
  • By encouraging your mom to estate plan, you recognizing that you want her wishes to be heard on important matters like disposition of final remains and a living will. (It makes up for all the times you didn’t follow her directions as a kid!)
  • Estate plans can also be seen as a representation of your everlasting love for your mother, because estate plans never expire! They need to be reviewed regularly and updated when goals or big life changing events happen, but a valid estate plan will last as long as your mom wants it to. What other Mother’s Day gifts can you say that about?

How do you gift someone an estate plan you ask? Well, you certainly can’t buy one at a store, but this is your chance to get creative.

  • Gift the gift of information. Even sharing the benefits and educating her on the main components of an estate plan is an amazing present.
  • Connect her with an estate planning attorney. Sometimes the hardest part of estate planning is simply getting started. When you work with an estate planning attorney (in lieu of something with a high potential for negative unintended consequences like a DIY will off the internet), they help guide and consult you through the process on top of writing the actual documents.
  • Give a storage container. This is a gift you could actually put a bow on! There are many different ways you can choose to store your estate plan, so take stock of what your mother has in terms of secure storage. Is there a locked file cabinet readily available or does she need a water-proof, fire-proof place to keep her original estate plan? The storage container could be a sort of representative for the estate plan that is to come.
  • Help her gather her information to fill out the Estate Plan Questionnaire. An Estate Plan Questionnaire helps you and your attorney collect all the important details related to your estate in one place.
  • Gift your assistance. Let your mom know that when she’s ready to discuss her planning decisions that you’ll be there to listen, and if necessary, bring your siblings (if any) and other family members to the table so that everyone is on the same page.

Already got your mom a gift? That’s cool. I’m sure she would love it in addition to the estate plan!

Questions, concerns, or otherwise from you or your mother? Contact me at any time via email or phone (515-371-6077).

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.

Pop the popcorn, uncork the champagne, and put on your best red-carpet duds to tune into the 90th Academy Awards tonight! In between award envelopes (hopefully there won’t be another embarrassing best picture flub like last year), consider how your 2018 Oscar ballot has some surprising connections with estate planning. It may sound like a stretch, but hear me out while you watch the pre-show coverage.

Anything Could Happen

If you’re a film buff who has managed to watch all nine of the Best Picture category nominees (first off, I’m jealous), you may have a strong opinion about which one deserves to win. However, just like life, anything could happen! You may think The Shape of Water most certainly will be victorious, but in the end, Darkest Hour ends up taking home the gold with the bravado of a Churchill speech. You know one of the films will win, just like you know someday you’re going to pass away. However, you cannot know which one of the films will win ahead of time, just like you cannot know how and when your final scene will be.

Jimmy Kimmel Oscars

Expecting the unexpected is what estate planning boils down to. With something fun and entertaining like the Academy Awards, surprises can make for ready Oscar party fodder. But, when it comes to your estate—all of your assets you worked hard to acquire—surprises can make for frustration infighting for your family, extended probate time and fees, and assets being distributed in a way that you wouldn’t have chosen.

Estate planning allows you to make certain your loved ones and the charities you care most about “win,” regardless of when you pass away.

It’s All in the Family

Many of the films nominated this year have familial relationships as a central plot device in the scripts. Without a doubt Dunkirk’s British civilian family who answered the call to assist with the rescue efforts in northern France during WWII undergoes a heartbreaking tragedy of their own. And, no one can deny the wrenching emotions of the mother Mildred in the aftermath of her daughter’s murder in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. The movies Call Me By Your Name and Lady Bird specifically both feature teenage protagonists, which brings up a clear benefit and point of necessity for estate planning.

Call Me By Your Name

Teens are still considered minor children until they would turn 18, their parents should have guardianship defined through their estate plans. That way, if something were to happen to the minor’s legal guardian(s), they could be immediately placed under the care of another trusted adult. Unless guardianship has been established, an Iowa Court must choose guardians for the minor child if the legal guardian died or was incapacitated. Unfortunately, with no clear choice as to what the former caregivers would have preferred, the Court must basically make its own and best determination as to who the parents would have preferred and what would be in the best interest of the children. The Court may or may not, choose who the former caregivers would have named.

Leave a Lasting Legacy

Some of the greatest films of all time have won the “Best Picture” category and left a cinematic legacy that has lasted well beyond their premiere date. These movies and the stories they tell live on in infamy, as generation after generation experiences their contribution to the entertainment industry.

Perhaps one or more of the 2018 Best Picture nominees will join this upper echelon of cinema (and maybe not), but estate planning also allows you to also make a mark on your world—a chance to leave a lasting legacy. A legacy can be interpreted differently be different people. A legacy to you could mean leaving a sizable charitable bequest to your church or alma mater. It could also mean bequeathing your art collection to your favorite museum. It could mean establishing college funds for all of your children and grandchildren to represent your belief in continuous learning. Whatever you envision your legacy to be, an estate plan will allow you shape it…think of it like your own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame!

hollywood walk of fame star

Let me know your pick for Best Picture in the comments below and if you want to discuss your estate plan don’t hesitate to contact me via email or by phone (515-371-6077). You can also get started on the creation of an estate plan by filling out my free, no-obligation Estate Plan Questionnaire.

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.

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. Want to share with your friends? Use the tag #PlanningForLove.

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 celebratelove 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.

 

give whatever i have graphic

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.

love heart outlineSo, 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.