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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 your mother has given you over the years.

mom tattoo

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 a 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 fees and court costs in the probate process.
  • By encouraging your mom to execute an estate plan, you are 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).

doctor and patient

Back before COVID-19 made its way to Iowa I had an appointment at the University of Iowa Hospital. Don’t worry, it was nothing serious. Beyond the facility, technology, and the clearly talented health care providers, what impressed me most was the nurse asked if I had a health care power of attorney and/or living will and if I had them on file there. Of course, I got quite excited that the hospital is putting this important part of estate planning front and center as a part of the checkup where they take your vitals and such.

Now, with a pandemic front and center, this often overlooked step in estate planning is more salient than ever. In case you don’t have a helpful nurse to prompt you to take this important step, allow me to issue the reminder.

Once your estate plan is executed you should store it properly, as well as give a copy of certain documents to your doctor(s). Your doctor doesn’t need your entire estate plan on record, but they should have a copy of your health care power of attorney and health/medical-related documents, such as a living will. You should request these documents to be placed in your medical records.

What Do YOU Want?

A major benefit of this simple action is that if anything unexpected happens, your doctors and their teams will have your detailed wishes readily available. Giving a copy to your health care provider(s) is especially important in the case where you have been incapacitated (such as in a coma or under anesthesia) and want a specific person (like a spouse, adult child, or sibling) to be able to important decisions on your behalf. You want there to be no question as to whom you trust to make those decisions. You also want there to be no questions when it comes to personal choices regarding things like blood transfusions and being kept alive on machines.

Access to Medical Records

When the health care power of attorney goes into effect, your designated representative will also have access to your medical records (which would otherwise be undisclosed due to HIPAA rules). If your doctor has your power of attorney on file, there will be significantly less red tape to your representative accessing essential information.

Remember Revisions

If you make revisions to your estate plan documents, such as who your designated health care representative is or specifics included in your living will make sure you give the updated version to your doctor’s office. You don’t want them operating off of an old version if an emergency occurs.

Questions about estate planning? Think it may be time to update your health care power of attorney document? Don’t hesitate to contact me. Want to get started? A great place to start is with this free, no-obligation estate plan questionnaire.

doctor holding stethoscope

Take a break from whatever you’re doing for entertainment during these socially distant days to test your knowledge on how much you know about health care power of attorney—a particularly important estate planning document. Because I’ve never particularly enjoyed tests (who does?), I’ll give you a hint; all the answers can be found in this recent blog post:

To make things even easier, all of the statements below are either true or false.

1. An estate plan is a set of legal documents to prepare you (and your family and loved ones) for your death or disability.

2. There are six basic legal documents that nearly everyone should have as a part of an estate plan:

3. A health care PoA is a legal document that allows you to select the person (your “agent”) that you want to make health care decisions on your behalf, if and when you become unable to make them for yourself.

4. Once your health care PoA goes into effect (typically most people elect to have this be the case only if an attending physician certifies you are unable to make medical decisions independently), your agent will then be able to make decisions for you based on the information you provided in your health care PoA.

5. If there are no specifics in your health care PoA relating to a unique situation, your agent can and should make health care decisions for you based on your best interests.

6. The person you select as your health care agent should be someone in whom you have the utmost trust.

7. The agent you select will be able to access your medical records, communicate with your health care providers, and so on.

8. Your health care PoA isn’t just about end-of-life decisions; it can cover many types of medical situations and decisions. For instance, you may choose to address organ donation, hospitalization, treatment in a nursing home, home health care, psychiatric treatment, and other situations in your health care PoA.

9. For people who feel strongly about not wanting to be kept alive with machines, this can be specifically covered in a document that can be part of your health care PoA, known as a living will.

10. If you don’t have a health care PoA and you should become incapacitated to the degree where you are unable to make health care decisions for yourself, your doctor(s) will ask your family and loved ones what to do. Ultimately, if your immediate family members cannot agree on a course of action, they would have to go to an Iowa Court to resolve the matter.

11. Going to court about a person’s medical care is very complicated, time-consuming, and expensive. This is especially true when compared with the convenience of simply putting a health care PoA in place should the need arise.

12. A health care PoA gives you control over how decisions are made for you, and the agent you choose will carry out your wishes.

13. Everyone can have unique issues and concerns when estate planning. It’s completely up to YOU as to what’s contained in your health care PoA. You name the agent(s). You decide what medical decisions will be covered and how. It’s all up to you.

14. Executing a health care PoA is a smart and responsible thing to do.

All of these statements are true. That wasn’t too bad! How did you do?

Questions about how and why to execute a health care power of attorney document? Don’t hesitate to contact me. Want to get started? A great place to start is with this free, no-obligation estate plan questionnaire.

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 reconsider 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 update 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 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.

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

Acknowledging Washington wrote his own will 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 wasn’t 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 Their 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.

Pop the popcorn, uncork the champagne, and put on your best red-carpet duds to tune into the 92nd Academy Awards tonight! In between award envelopes and amazing performances, consider how your 2020 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 bet that 1917 most certainly will be victorious, but in the end, 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.

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 and confusionin fighting 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

Some of the films nominated this year have familial relationships as a central plot device in the scripts. For instance, the Greta Gerwig take on the Louisa May Alcott classic, Little Women, explores the relationships between four sisters, each unique in their talents and interests, from childhood through young adulthood.

The scenes of Jo, Amy, Meg, and Beth remind us that people are considered minor children until they turn 18, and 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, the Iowa Courts 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 parent(s) would have preferred and what would be in the best interest of the children. The Court may or may not, choose who the parent(s) would have actually 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. Indeed, the plot of the nominee Ford v Ferrari explores what kind of lasting reputation a team can build in their attempt at besting the dominator of the day.

Perhaps one or more of the 2020 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 by 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 to shape it…think of it as your own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame!

hollywood walk of fame star

Retain Your Control

Power is a common theme in some of the films nominated this year. Whether it’s the Joker with its implicit theme on how the power of kindness can change the cycle of bad events for someone or De Niro in The Irishman detailing the inner politics and power grabs of the mob, there is something to be said for retaining control over your assets. I like to tell my clients that estate planning really just allows you to direct who inherits what, when, and how. For most folks, they want to choose where their hard-earned property goes, not the government via Iowa’s intestacy laws.

I’d love to hear your take on films nominated this year, but I’d also like 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 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.

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.

Estate planning is one of those pesky things you know you absolutely should do, but it tends to get pushed to the bottom of your continuous to-do list. Even the best plans to make this the year of finally getting your estate plan in order, life happens and things can get hectic. Unfortunately, when you or your loved one needs an estate plan the most, such as in the tragic situation of unexpected disability or death, it’s not readily available.

Together, we’re going to make this year your most prepared one yet! In the spirit of a fresh start, a new year and a new decade, here are six resolutions to set you up for estate plan super success.

Overcome Your Excuses.

It’s understandable why I often hear the same excuses from folks who should have an estate plan (aka everyone older than 18, regardless of age, debts, assets, and marital status), but don’t. Procrastination is a natural part of human nature, especially when you’re putting off perceived conversations on uncomfortable topics like money, death, and taxes. Yet, most people, once they learn the benefits which accrue to a completed estate plan, initial discomfort fades. So, let’s eliminate the three most common excuses:

Not enough time or too busy.

Let’s be honest, there’s never enough time. There never will be. The (sometimes cruel) irony of estate planning is that it’s there for you and your family when you’ve literally run out of time. You’ll be happy to know the bulk of time needed for an estate plan (if you work with a professional…and you should) is thinking about and communicating, what you want to happen with your assets upon passing. Who do you want to be your named as beneficiaries? Who do you want to serve as guardians to your kids? Also, you’ll need to consider carefully who you want to be your financial and health care agents in the case of disability.

(Note that such communicating can be easily done through a tool like my estate plan questionnaire.)

I don’t know where to start.

As excuses go, this has some validity but is easily quashed with a few tools that are available to everyone for free. First, read my post on all the basics of estate planning to get familiar with the six key documents. Second, fill out my free, no-obligation estate plan questionnaire. Truly, estate planning (at least my process), is just five easy steps from start to finish.

It’s too expensive to make an estate plan.

There’s no one-size-fits-all for estate plans. Therefore, costs will depend on your estate’s size, complexity, and your goals. I’ll be completely clear on the exact costs upfront, and that’s a guarantee. This is a major reason why filling out the estate plan questionnaire is such an important first step. Through your completed questionnaire, I can tell what you need, make a recommendation, and give you an exact price.

Keep in mind that it will almost certainly be more expensive for your family and loved ones if you die intestate (without a will). It will not only cost them monetarily, but also, much worse, emotionally as well, the process can be shockingly slow, tedious, and create unnecessary conflict.

man writing down ides in notebook

Organize your digital asset information.

Think of all the information pertinent to your personal and professional life and the finances that you have on your computer. Think of all the important data that’s held entirely in online accounts. Often things like your email accounts, online banking, and storage accounts, for example, are referred to as digital assets. Access to these digital assets will be important for your chosen executor or trustee to handle and settle your estate. A solid estate plan will account for these digital assets and specify who you want to have access to all this data information in order to transfer/settle/close accounts appropriately. Additionally, you’ll want to have a separate, secure document or account (like LastPass, for instance) that lists your all accounts and their login information.

Be Resolute with Revisions

If you already have an estate plan, do a happy dance! You are way ahead of about 60% of the population, which doesn’t even have a basic will (or trust) in place.

While estate plans never expire, they do need to be updated and kept current. If you have a major life event, it may well warrant revisiting your estate plan.  Such life events include marriage or divorce if you establish residency in a new state, the birth of a child, the loss of one of your beneficiaries/executors, or if your financial situation changes significantly.

Speaking of change, remember too that state and federal laws are perpetually changing and when certain rules change, so too must your estate plan. For instance, under the new tax law passed in 2017, 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.

Check your Marks

The Gordon Fischer Law Firm Ultimate Estate Planning Checklist makes it easy to visualize your completion rate of all the important documents and related tasks. It’s easy to read, a handy dandy cheat sheet of items to accomplish to get you from zero to superhero in no time.

Estate Planning Checklist GFLF

Plan for an Impact

There is a multitude of ways to practice impactful charitable giving. One incredibly easy way is to name charities near and dear to your heart as beneficiaries in your estate plan. The resolution here? Think about what charities you would like to give to, how much (a figure or percentage), and, if you already have an estate plan, review it. If it doesn’t include your chosen charities, it’s time for an update!

Transform Talk into Trust

When making estate planning decisions it’s important to discuss said decisions with your family (and others included in the plan). Communicating in advance and ensuring your loved ones fully understand the “what” and “why” means there’s a significantly better chance your wishes will be respected and executed fully as you intended. The worst-case scenario in estate planning is litigation over what the deceased (or critically disabled) individual wanted. For instance, if you have an end-stage medical condition, the last thing you want is family fighting over your health care power of attorney or living will. These conversations can be challenging, but ultimately should be conducive to a peaceful transition of assets, reduction of tension between beneficiaries, and a clear understanding of what was communicated and recorded.

Creating an estate plan that achieves your goals is a resolution you can DEFINITELY keep this year (even if that low-carb diet resolution doesn’t quite make it past January). The time it takes is nothing in comparison to the time it will save your loved ones in time, money, and stress! Plus, the peace of mind that comes with knowing your affairs are in order if something were to happen is invaluable. This is your year to be prepared. Let’s get started. Contact me at any time via email (gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com) or phone (515-371-6077) and in the meantime fill out the estate plan questionnaire.

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.