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footballs on wall

Turn on ESPN, put on your jersey, and stock with fridge with a cold beverage…the College Football Playoff National Championship is this Monday, January 13, 2020. (The game kicks off at 8 p.m.) While reading up on the stats and predictions for a tiger showdown between the LSU Tigers and Clemson Tigers in New Orleans’ Mercedes-Benz Superdome, I couldn’t help but make a connection with estate planning. Goalposts to estate planning goals may seem like a stretch, but hear me out.

 

Football is a complex game—the field is full of moving parts and competing strategies; it’s a game of inches where just a few missteps or right moves can make a huge difference. Estate planning works the same way. Here are just five of the surprising similarities between estate planning and the game of football:

1. Your Clock Will Indeed Run Out

Just like every football season eventually comes to an end, your (hopefully long and healthy) season will also come to a close. When it does, you need a special kind of playbook for the rest of your team…AKA an estate plan. In this analogy, an experienced lawyer is a great coach who is going to help you put plans in place for when the game changes unexpectedly or the stadium lights turn off for the last time. And, just like so much can change over the course of a season, a lot will happen over the course of your lifetime. That’s where annual reviews and revisions after significant events fit in.

While it is often difficult for people to ponder their unavoidable exit off their own fictitious field, preparation for what happens after your season is over can be one of the most comforting aspects of financial and legal planning.

2. The Main Players

Let’s take this analogy a bit further and put some estate planning terms into football speak.

Estate – An estate is a whole playbook, containing the following documents: your will; health care power of attorney; financial power of attorney; disposition of personal property; and final disposition of remains. (Click on the link preview below to delve deeper.)

Will – A will deals primarily with the distribution of assets and care for minor children. You need to make certain the will is well-drafted, solid, and can stand up in court. Keep in mind though, important assets such as life insurance policy payouts, retirement assets, and investment accounts may well contain beneficiary designations that trump your will.

Trust – You have lots of different options with this player. A trust can dictate how your assets will be dispersed, the timeline and manner in which they are dispersed, and who’s overseeing the process.

3. You Must Make Mid-Season Starting Lineup Adjustments

Just as a coach may switch up who’s starting partway through the season, you may need to make adjustments to your estate plan 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 a good reason to review your “playbook.”

4. 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.

5. Final Score

football on field

 

There are probably at least a few more good football analogies I could tie into the conversation of why you need an estate plan, but the most important takeaway is that you never know when the game is going to change. So, you need to have your “playbook” written out ASAP. The best place to start 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).

update estate plan blank page

The great thing about your estate plan is that once you have one, it never expires. However, it does need to be kept current with your life as well as applicable laws. Why? Keeping your estate plan updated and current is simply a smart part of planning. An outdated estate plan could more easily be challenged in probate court or create unnecessary tensions between your loved ones.

Because of this, I advise Iowans to review estate plans on an annual basis. Simply check in with your lawyer, and other professional advisors, every year or so. Some clients like to do this around the first of the year, others choose to do so on an easily remembered date like a  birthday or anniversary. Others pick a random date. Any date will work, just stick with it every year.

Seek the help of a professional advisors to update your estate plan, most especially when you undergo a major life change. A few of the most prominent examples:

  • You get married or divorced.
  • A birth or death occurs among your family  or other beneficiaries of your estate.
  • A person you chose to be a guardian, trustee, or executor dies or becomes critically disabled and unable to fulfill their responsibilities.
  • There is a change in the value and/or kind of property you own. Examples of this could be receiving an inheritance of some kind or right-sizing as retirement age approaches).
  • You move to another state or country, or you acquire significant property in another state or country. (A common example of this is buying a second home, like a condo in Mexico or lake house in Minnesota).

Any of these changes require careful (re)analysis of your estate plan.

If you have experienced any major life changes (including one not listed here), don’t hesitate to reach out to me at any time. If you’re not quite at this stage yet and first need the important key documents that comprise an estate plan, get started with my free, no-obligation Estate Plan Questionnaire.

GoFisch book club with coffee mug

It’s not hard to find books about estate planning, but if I’m being honest most are nonfiction guides and most are kind of dry and dull. Sure, they can act as a solid primer for what you may want to know about estate planning, but they do not make for cozy, wintery weekend reads. But it’s much easier, less complicated, and concise to work with an estate planning attorney who can tailor information to your needs.

To spare you from books you’ll hate, I try to recommend reads for the GoFisch Book Club that touch on my practice areas—estate planning, charitable giving, and nonprofits—that are also engaging. Kicking off 2020, I’m adding “The Last Will and Testament of Henry Hoffman” by John Tesarsch to the GoFisch bookshelf.

After their eccentric (or reclusive, depending on how you see it) father commits suicide, three adult siblings are left to reckon with the father’s will that leaves his full estate to an unknown woman. Secrets unravel and the strings of grievances and grief intertwine as the siblings come apart fighting over their inheritance. Without disclosing any spoilers, this is more of a family drama than a legal one, but the bits and pieces of will contests serve as a warning sign that should hopefully inspire all readers to get their ducks in a row. Indeed, while largely set in Australia, this familial breakdown and conflict over competing legal documents could happen almost anywhere.

Having practiced as a barrister in Australia, Tesarsch knows a thing or two about how estate planning can leave a lasting legacy. . . and a contested will can cause immense familial conflict.

What titles would you like to see me add to the GoFisch Book Club? I would love to hear what you’re reading. Shoot me an email, Facebook message, tweet, or Instagram DM to let me know.

person with laptop at table

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

  • Personal and professional resolutions you can actually keep
  • New Year’s-inspired Spotify playlist
  • YouTube video on how to maximize charitable giving
  • Nonprofit & philanthropy news worth knowing
  • Must-read blog post highlights

Like what you read? Don’t forget to subscribe to GoFisch and tell your friends. I like to think of it as the least boring law firm newsletter you could hope to read! Also, if you ever have any suggestions for content you would like to see, do not hesitate to contact me.

fireworks in the sky new year

Before the new year is rung in with champagne flutes and fireworks, take these last few days of December to reflect. What do you like about your life? What do you want to change? In years past maybe you set out with the best of intentions to do something different or new, but it fell by the wayside by mid-February. Don’t worry; we’ve all been there. But if you’re looking for a resolution or goal (or whatever you want to call it) that you can actually “keep” I have just the suggestion—make an estate plan.

Like your more average resolutions to lose weight, eat healthier, be nicer, the resolution to create an estate plan can sound daunting at first, but estate planning is actually one of the best goals you can make. Here are a few of the many reasons why:

Estate planning is actually achievable.

The best goals are actionable, realistic, and sustainable. Estate planning is all of those things. With tools like a free estate plan questionnaire, this description of different documents that comprise an estate plan, and the useful checklist, you have the useful tools at your fingertips to reasonably achieve this goal without having to go to too much trouble. Plus, achieving a goal of executing an estate plan can give you a beneficial confidence boost that can inspire you to accomplish other resolutions.

You don’t have to go it alone.

Enlist an experienced attorney who can help guide your estate planning experience from start to finish and tailor your documents to strategically meet your needs and wishes for the future. Sure, you could try to go it alone, and use some sort of messy (potentially inaccurate) DIY documents off the internet. But, why would you potentially threaten the validity of this important set of legal documents when you can bring in an expert who will help you best achieve your wishes? Think, if you were serious about getting in shape, you may hire a personal trainer or wellness coach…an estate planner is like that.

new year paper lanterns

Estate planning is a resolution that can relieve stress!

Many new year’s resolutions also come with a dose of stress. Changing habits can be stressful. Something like a diet can make you crabby. Estate planning is one of the few (if only) resolutions I can think of that gives you both peace of mind and relieves future stress your loved ones. If you pass away or are incapacitated without certain documents (like health care and financial powers of attorney in place) it makes things incredibly difficult, confusing, and stressful for your family members. For most folks, that’s the last thing they want for their loved ones when they’ll already be having a tough/grieving time. Basically completing estate planning is the gift that keeps on giving!

Want to get a head start on making this new year your best year yet? You don’t have to wait for the ball to drop! Start in on this free, no-obligation estate plan questionnaire or contact me to discuss your situation.

man with fireworks - charitable giving

With ringing in the new year comes the inevitable resolutions to be happier, healthier, more productive…all good intentions. But, what if this year you make a different kind of resolution—an actionable goal that could make a difference in the causes you care about? How about a goal that goes beyond yourself and could also have a positive impact on your community? This year I implore you to make at least one charitable giving goal. A giving goal can be a “resolution” you actually keep after the snow melts. How? With the right plan in place!

woman looking at fireworks

Similarly, I encourage my clients to determine their estate planning goals. These goals help guide me in drafting a personalized estate plan and determining which documents and provisions are needed. After all, every Iowan, family, and business is unique. Charitable giving goals can work the same way as a guiding blueprint for the who, what, when, and why of giving.

Use the following information to set your charitable giving goals for the new year!  

tips for setting charitable giving goals

Set a budget.

Of course, to begin, you’ll need to examine your entire budget including income, committed expenses (such as rent/mortgage payments, all bills, healthcare costs, etc.), to determine your discretionary income—this is the money you have left over after your committed expenses.

Along with your budget you should also consider whether larger one-time donations or recurring (perhaps monthly) donations work better for your budget, personality, and spending habits. A one-time donation may help prevent money from being spent on other discretionary choices. On the other hand, a repeated, monthly donation may help divide the total amount up into manageable sums. And, monthly donations can often be configured to automatically be made from your account which makes it easy to set the figure at the beginning of the year and make it a regular expenditure. Nonprofit organizations are grateful for all charitable contributions, but recurring, monthly gifts make their budgeting easier.

Look at the big picture.

big picture giving

Step back from the accounting weeds for a moment and sit down with a plain piece of paper. Write down the causes and organizations you care about. If you feel passionate about a certain issue, but don’t know of a specific charity off the top of your head that is addressing the issue, make a note of it. Your list doesn’t have to be long, just true to you.

Then, commit to research to determine which organizations are going to invest your money toward a mission that aligns with your own ethos. Some things to consider about a charity:

  • Financial health. Tax-exempt organizations have to file Form 990 (officially, the “Return of Organization Exempt From Income Tax”)  with the IRS. This form details the organization’s financial information and is available to the public. Do a search on a database such as the Foundation Center, for a charity you’re considering donating to, and review the financial data.
  • What’s the charity’s commitment to transparency? How about accountability?
  • What’s the organization’s Charity Navigator rating, if any? Charity Navigator’s rating system examines a charity’s performance in the areas of financial health and accountability/transparency, and presents it in an easily discernible way.
  • Is the organization a public charity or private foundation? This will have an impact on your federal income tax charitable deductions.
  • Is the organization based in the U.S. or is it a foreign charity? (Generally, if the donee is a foreign charitable organization, an income tax deduction is unavailable.)

Of course, if you’re personally involved with an organization through volunteering, fundraising, or the like, that’s a good way to “know” the charities as well. Research will empower and embolden your charitable goals if you know your donation is going to an upstanding, trustworthy operation.

Seek advice.

If you made a goal to increase muscle mass, you would likely seek the services of a personal trainer. If your goal is to eat healthier? Maybe a nutritionist. When the goal is to be committed to smart charitable donations, you’ll want to enlist the likes of your lawyer, accountant, and/or financial advisor. Seek out a professional who has experience working with nonprofits, the tax code, and strategies for intelligent giving. This pro can and should be able to help you put your plan into action.

(This tip also applies to practicing charitable giving through your estate plan—something you should definitely hire an estate planning lawyer to make sure the estate plan is properly, legally executed.)

Focus efforts / limit charitable targets.

Smart charitable giving means a vested commitment toward a cause or organization’s advancement, as well as financially beneficial tax deductions for you. Unlike investments where the general advice is to diversify to reduce risk, in the realm of charitable giving the opposite may well be true. You may well receive the greatest “return” by concentrating your giving on a fewer, rather than more, organizations. Consider giving to two or three nonprofits to magnify your impact.

If you’re ready to commit to charitable giving goals you can actually keep I’m happy to offer advice and strategy. Don’t hesitate to reach out via email (gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com) or by phone (515-371-6077).

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.

thanksgiving thankful

I would like to wish you a very happy Thanksgiving. I hope that you have the opportunity to spend quality time with your loved ones. I’ve taken a much needed moment this holiday to take a step back and think about all GFLF has to be thankful for. I owe so much to my clients, friends, and family who have helped make this year a successful one.

grateful quote

Here are just a few of the things GFLF has to be exceedingly grateful for:

But, really, this is a short list—the tip of the turkey, if you will—of what GFLF is perpetually thankful for.

Wishing you full bellies and hearts today,

Gordon Fischer

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. 

Young couple holding hands

Who – what age group – needs to be most concerned with estate planning? Ask Iowans this question, and I’ll bet most would conjure up the image of a retiree, who just spent 50+ years working hard to acquire significant assets.

But imagine, say, a young, married couple. They both have good jobs, live in a nice starter home, and have one or two toddlers.

This young couple tries to put away a little bit of money for savings, and in a college fund, and for retirement. Why should they worry about estate planning?

The truth is, this young couple should be just as concerned–arguably, even more concerned–with estate planning as the retiree. Here are four reasons why:

  1. Choosing guardians for minor children. In an estate plan, you can choose the guardians of children. If you should become incapacitated, or even die, without any estate plan, an Iowa court would have no choice but to appoint a guardian for your children – but it may not be who you wanted or who you would have chosen. Better to make this choice with plenty of time to consider and make a careful, well-reasoned choice.
  2. Save on fees, court costs, and taxes. A good estate plan can save you and your estate money on fees, court costs, and taxes – perhaps even achieve substantial savings. These savings can be even more critically important for a smaller estate – more likely when you’re younger – than for larger estate, more likely as you grow older. Often, young folks actually have the greatest need to save money to pass along the most they possibly can to family and loved ones.
  3. Help favorite charities. Young people often are passionate about one or more causes. Having an estate plan means that you can put into place much needed help for your favorite charities.
  4. Life is uncertain. It may be awkward to talk about, but life isn’t guaranteed for any of us, young or old. There’s an old saying in estate planning circles that goes, “people don’t always die when they are supposed to.” Wives usually outlive their husbands, parents usually outlive their children, and so on, but not always. It is best to be prepared for anything/everything.

Whatever your age, if you are interested in estate planning, a good place to start is my free Estate Planning Questionnaire, or you can contact me!