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hands typing on computer

A cutting edge issue in traditional estate planning is cryptocurrency. “Cryptocurrency” (as defined by Investopedia) is “a digital or virtual currency that uses cryptography for security. A cryptocurrency is difficult to counterfeit because of this security feature. A defining feature of a cryptocurrency, and arguably its most endearing allure, is its organic nature; it is not issued by any central authority, rendering it theoretically immune to government interference or manipulation.”

The most common, and for now the unofficial standard for cryptocurrency (AKA altcoin) is Bitcoin. But the market is getting increasingly more crowded with others including Ripple, Dash, Litecoin, and Zcash to name just a few. (For the purposes of this article, we’ll focus on Bitcoin, but these points could be applied to cryptocurrencies in general.)

Many posts could be written about cryptocurrency, its benefits, and its challenges, but this post is focused on how to account for Bitcoin in your estate plan, as opposed to a standard currency, like the U.S. Dollar.

Acknowledge the IRS’ Perspective

The IRS has determined, at least for the time being, virtual currency is treated as personal property for federal tax purposes. So, virtual currency transactions are most definitely not the same as, say, online banking through your local community credit union. Instead, for general tax purposes, Bitcoin is treated like tangible property you own, like a painting or a car.

Establish the Existence of Bitcoin

Unlike a checking or saving account. there are no beneficiary designations on Bitcoin accounts. In fact, quite the opposite — Bitcoin is anonymous. Therefore, if you were to die without communicating that you have Bitcoin, it will die with you.

For security reasons, of course, you won’t want everyone to know about your ownership of Bitcoin. But you do need to develop a method for passing along the important details to a trusted representative such as your named trustee or executor. This is somewhat similar to accounting for digital assets in your estate plan and many of the same steps/tips apply.

Bitcoin falls into somewhat of a “grey” area outside the realm of a pure digital asset, but it also isn’t a pure financial asset. It might make sense to entrust the existence of Bitcoin to the person you assign to take care of your digital assets, especially if they have a better knowledge base of the what/why/how of cryptocurrency.

Make sure the Bitcoin is Accessible

Unlike a traditional bank account, your executor/trustee can’t just simply contact Bitcoin (as they would your community credit union or bank)  after your death. Your agent must have your private key (or username/password depending on the wallet host) in order to access and then distribute the coin as you’ve determined in your estate plan. Again, if you’re the only person who has access to your “wallet,” the Bitcoin will be forever lost in the network. If you’re comfortable with it, you could include your Bitcoin private key on a secure digital archive site like Everplans or, more traditionally, you could keep the key in a safety deposit box.

Plan for the Prudent Investor Act

Many states, including Iowa, have a version of the Prudent Investor Act. (The text of Iowa’s law can be found under the Iowa Uniform Prudent Investor Act.) Under the Act, if you die with a large reserve of Bitcoin, it could be considered an “investment” which the trusted agent could be required to sell and/or diversify. In the face of uncertainty, it’s always better to account for contingencies in your estate plan before your loved ones are faced with a bad scenario. If one of the goals of your estate plan is to grant your executor/trustee the ability to hold your Bitcoin long-term, then it’s wise to include specific language in your will or trust absolving the executor/trustee from liability if they “fail” to diversity your Bitcoin.

Think About Taxes

If your executor/trustee retains your Bitcoin it would not be considered income (at least at the time of this post’s writing). However, if Bitcoin is converted to cash following your passing, it must be declared as income on an estate tax return. Additionally, if your executor were to retain Bitcoin, see it appreciate in value, and then sell it, there is the issue of the capital gains tax. (“The IRS requires American resident taxpayers to report Bitcoin trading income and losses worldwide on U.S. resident tax returns.”) Consider this in your directive of how you would like your Bitcoin to be managed in event of your death.

Fair Market Value: Step Up or Down

The fact that Bitcoin is currently considered personal property means evaluating for either a step-up or step-down in basis given the fair market value on the date of death. (I write more on this in regards to four different types of assets here.)

Let’s consider the hypothetical where Betty inherits 100 Bitcoins (BTC) from Amy. At the time of Amy’s death 1 BTC is worth $50 and when Betty goes to spend 1 BTC, it’s worth $60. That means Betty’s taxable gain on the use of the Bitcoin is $10. How much Amy initially paid for the 100 BTC is irrelevant. Again, the only relevant factor is the fair market value on the date of Amy’s death. It’s wise, as part of your estate planning, to consider your Bitcoin’s depreciation or appreciation to determine how this may affect your heirs. It’s even wiser to discuss your individual situation with professional tax and financial advisors, as well as your estate planning attorney.

Estate Planning is a Must, not an Option

It’s likely we’re going to only see more unique situations, such as that which cryptocurrency presents, in the future. While the future value of Bitcoin may be uncertain, for certain you need an estate plan, and you shouldn’t let your investment die with you. If you already have an estate plan, it’s probably a good time to revisit it to ensure it accounts for assets like Bitcoin. Email me or give me a call (515-371-6077) with questions or to discuss your digital estate planning needs.

Gordon Fischer at desk with client

I’ve previously written about the six “must have” documents of everyone’s estate plan. These documents include some key people that are essential. But, the terms for some of these roles can be confusing. Let’s review the main ones today.

Who/What is a Beneficiary?

Let’s talk first about beneficiaries. This is a basic term you’ve probably heard before or seen while filling out documents. Your beneficiary is the person to whom you leave your belongings, assets, money, land, etc. Of course you can leave your stuff to more than one person, in which case there would be multiple beneficiaries. With multiple beneficiaries, you’ll have to clearly designate who gets what. This can be done in a number of ways; for example, percentages of total value of the estate, or it can be done with specifics.

An example of percentages:  “I want Beth to inherit 20% of my estate.”

An example of a specific bequest:  “I want my son John to inherit the country house and I want my daughter Suzie Q to inherit the lake house.”

You don’t have to be related to your beneficiaries, and you’re under no obligation to leave anything to family members whom you wish not to receive your assets (no matter how hard that may be or how guilty you might feel). You could elect to leave part or your entire estate to charities. It truly is your choice as to who should benefit under your estate plan.

There’s a lot more to say about beneficiaries, but for now, just remember to make sure all documents are up-to-date. Keeping your estate plan up-to-date ensures you avoid nightmares like your ex-husband from years ago cashing in on your retirement funds.

How about an Executor?

Let’s talk about the executor of the will. An executor is the person who is in charge of your estate plan. They make sure the will is carried out as it is written. It’s not an awful job, but it is an awful lot of responsibility. Most folks, having never had to deal with the execution of a will, might not know how arduous it can actually be. Additionally, your executor might be close to you and grieving your passing while trying to make sure everything is taken care of properly. It can be stressful, to say the least.

When picking an executor, you want to make sure it’s someone you trust. Obvious, right? But, it’s so much more than that. We all have people in our lives we love and trust on a personal level, but we know they’re not responsible with things like finances and details. Those people would not a good executor choice, generally speaking. Look for someone in your life who is detail-oriented and can handle the part-time job of dispensing an estate.

If there’s no such person in your life, or even if there is and you simply don’t want to burden them with the task, there’s another great option: corporate executors or trustees–which can be found at a bank or a credit union. The corporate executor offers the bonus of being completely neutral in all things, which can be helpful if you have sticky family dynamics that might make life difficult for the executor. The corporate executor does come at a cost, which is usually based on the size of the estate. I tend to think you get what you pay for, and this could be an excellent option to consider.

If you do go with an executor you know personally, you’ll want to sit down and talk with them about it. You want them to know that you’ve assigned them the task and why you chose them specifically. And, if you’re choosing one child out of many, you’ll want everyone to be on the same page so there’s no unexpected turbulence after you’re gone.

How about Legal Guardians?

Legal guardians are the folks who will take care of your minor children should something happen to you before they reach the age of 18. Like your executor, this job requires a lot of trust in the person you choose.

Clearly, this is not a job that ends after the estate is closed. Who you decide to choose should be a matter of closeness of relationship (as in bond, not necessarily family ties), mutual values, and ability to handle the responsibility. Have an in-depth conversation with the person or people you choose. You want to confirm that you’re comfortable with their parenting style, make sure they feel they’re up to the job, and let them know why you chose them.

Important Trait in Common: Trust

What’s the key theme in all of these roles from beneficiaries to executors to legal guardians? Trust. The level of trust you have in the people who are involved in and benefit from your estate plan should be strong to be successful. If you ever have any questions about selecting the key players in your estate plan, don’t hesitate to reach out.

Your Estate Plan Should be Unique to You

There it is in a nutshell. Those are the basics of the key people in your estate plan.

Whether your estate plan is simple or complicated, it does require some thought and time, but it’s worth the investment. A proper estate plan can save you and your estate costs, taxes, and fees; help your family and friends; and provide you peace of mind.

Perhaps most importantly, through proper estate planning, you can help your favorite charities in ways large and small.

No Day Like Today

Why not start right now with my Estate Planning Questionnaire? It’s provided to you free, without any obligation.

Do you have an estate plan? Why or why not? I’d love to hear from you. You can reach me any time at gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com or by phone at 515-371-6077.

april fool's day balloons

Hopefully, you didn’t get pranked too bad today or misled by a jokester on social media today. But, if you did, happy April Fool’s Day! We all love a good practical joke now and then, but the subject of estate planning is definitely not one to laugh at. If you already have an estate plan in place, that’s fantastic, but don’t let an old or inadequate estate plan make a fool out of your life, property, and legacy.

Review Your Estate Plan

Let this lighthearted April Fool’s day actually serve as a reminder to review your current documents and determine if you need to consider updated language, additional provisions, or a different strategy (like “upgrading” from a basic will to a trust). When revisiting your estate plan consider these common mistakes I see when reviewing folks’ less-than-optimal documents.

Living Trusts Missing Retirement Plan Lingo

Many people have a valid portion of the estate assets investing in retirements plans like IRAs and 401(k)s. The mistake comes when people designate their revocable living trust as the beneficiary of these plans, but the trust hasn’t been written or updated to grant the trustee the power to manage the accounts placed in the trust. Without vesting this power in the successor trustee (presuming the testator was the initial trustee and then passed away), the trustee can lack the ability to properly deal with the plan assets and unfavorable income tax consequences can occur.

Uncertain if your revocable living trust properly contains the requisite retirement plan lingo? Simply check with an experienced estate planning attorney and invest in amending.

Outdated Living Wills

Also known as an “advanced medical directive,” your living will should contain the appropriate Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (more commonly referred to as HIPAA) language. (HIPAA involves privacy and who can and cannot have access to your medical records.) If your living will was drafted pre-2001 (before Congress passed new rules governing the Act) it likely doesn’t contain the essential references to HIPPA. I’ve even seen some living wills written well after 2001 that didn’t have the proper provision. It may sound silly, but without this “magic” wording, your designated health care representative won’t have access to your medical records. Without this access, they may not be able to fulfill their duty in making the most informed decisions regarding your health care as possible. This mistake can be especially important if you’ve designated someone other than a close relative (such as a spouse or adult child) as your agent.

Underfunded Living Trusts

Another mistake I’ve seen is living revocable trusts that are not fully funded. Undoubtedly, without the guidance of a quality estate planner, the funding process can feel overwhelming. When people procrastinate or run into roadblocks when placing assets into their trust they can get frustrated and fail to complete the process. This is a misstep with negative consequences because without funding the trust, it’s best thought of as an empty container waiting for a testator’s assets to fill it up. Without it, if the person with the underfunded trust passes away, the estate will still need to pass through the sluggish and costly probate process. And, quite frankly, the investment in the trust will have been for little benefit or advantage.

Let your estate planner help you through this process. Also, consider if you have any new major assets that need to be assigned to the trust.

All jokes aside, every Iowan deserves a high quality and functional estate plan that meets their goals. Don’t be a fool and let more time go by before reviewing your plan! Please contact me with any questions; I offer a free one-hour consult.

Selection Sunday 2017

1. If you understand #SelectionSunday, and #MarchMadness, you can most certainly understand estate planning.

When I meet people who say they’re confused about estate planning I love to see their faces when I tell them understanding the basics of wills, trusts, and even business succession planning may sound intimidating, but the basics are as simple as understanding NCAA March Madness. Seriously! Many folks know what teams are on the bubble, which teams were playing well at end of the season and which weren’t, what the most likely upsets are, and so on.NCAA Basketballs

Just like all those details are a part of #SelectionSunday and #NCAAMarchMadness, there are multiple inputs that go into a quality estate plan. For starters, there are your personal goals, the six main estate planning documents, and then personal considerations for, say, children, a family with special needs, pets, and charitable bequests. Feel free to read into these estate plan elements (like you would check out the stats of your favorite teams!) in between sweating out your bracket. And, speaking of your bracket…

2. If you have time to fill out a March Madness bracket (and you do), you also have time to fill out an Estate Plan Questionnaire.

Most everyone I know fills out a March Madness bracket in a (mostly) friendly competition with family, friends, co-workers, or sometimes all three. If you have time to fill out a bracket, why not also put serious thought into securing your future with estate planning? No, I’m not trying to guilt you. It’s just, again, it’s not that hard! You can find my Estate Plan Questionnaire here. It’s a great place to start.

 3. Weird stuff happens.

We all know that a huge part of the fun of NCAA March Madness is the upsets. The super thrilling and/or gut-wrenching endings that shouldn’t have happened, but somehow did. It’s a reminder that life, for better or worse, is quite unpredictable. Why not make sure that plans are in place in case something unexpected happens?

Want some more sports to legal analogies in your life? Check out this read on preparing your favorite nonprofit for top-notch compliance.

Regardless of who you’re slating to win it all, I would love to hear from you; let’s schedule an initial free one-hour consultation (at no obligation, of course). Email me at gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com or give me a call at 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 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.

Fancy estate planning pen on notebook

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

Iowa Requirements

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

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

Formalities Matter

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

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

creative sticker

To all of my estate planning clients, I stress the need for a complete estate plan. The set of documents includes more than a last will and testament. It also includes a health care power of attorney, disposition of personal property, and disposition of final remains, among others. But, each individual and their situation is unique and accordingly, an estate plan can and should be customizable. Beyond the baseline documents, some people elect to include a living will, while others choose to set-up a living trust. Furthermore, the specific content within the documents can range immensely when it comes to particular provisions, charitable bequests, and instructive wishes. You may even choose to get a bit “creative” with your estate plan, like the following famous examples of out-of-the-ordinary instructions.

Hairy Situation

Napoleon Bonaparte, the infamous French emperor and military leader, issued unique end-of-life directives that differed from his typical military orders. Just days before his death, Bonaparte inserted a clause stating that if he were assassinated by the “English oligarchy” that, “The English nation will not be slow in avenging me.” He also requested that his hair be divvied up among his family and stated:  “Marchand shall preserve my hair, and cause a bracelet to be made of it, with a little gold clasp, to be sent to Empress Maria Louisa, to my mother, and to each of my brothers, sisters, nephews, nieces, the Cardinal; and one of larger size for my son.”

Napoleon chair

Final Resting…Can

If you don’t want to make gifts out of your hair, you could request to be buried in a Pringles can like Fred Baur (who invented Pringles). Alternatively, you could be made into a series of limited-edition Frisbees and sell them like Ed Headrick (who, you guessed it, invented Frisbee and founder of the Disc Golf Association).

Family Find

Perhaps you want to issue a challenge in your estate plan like the late magazine mogul William Randolph Hearst. In Hearst’s estate plan, he challenged popular rumors, stating that anyone who could prove that they were an illegitimate child of his would inherit a $1. Spoiler alert: no one ever claimed it. (He also barred his five sons from running Hearst Corporation, which goes to show estate planning and business succession planning go hand in hand.)

one dollar bill

Better Letter

In a different kind of challenge, novelist and playwright George Bernard Shaw left money behind to fund the creation of a brand new alphabet, called the “Shaw Alphabet.” He left the conditions that the alphabet must have 40 letters, be phonetic, and totally different from the Latin alphabet. He also stipulated his desire for his script, Androcles and the Lion, to be printed in the winning alphabet.

Choose Your Own Adventure

This all goes to show the point of estate planning: YOU get to choose. Not the court and not family members who may be left confused as to what’s best or what you would have wanted. Your estate plan is where you get to choose what’s best for you, your loved ones, and your hard-earned assets.

I’d love to help draft the perfect individualized estate plan for you. One of the best ways to get started thinking about what you want is by filling out my free, no-strings Estate Plan Questionnaire. Or, you can contact me via email or phone.

Gordon Fischer Estate Planning Simple

You know you need an estate plan, but you still don’t understand really what you need or where to start. What to do? I’m here to help and it’s one of my personal missions to break down estate planning so it’s as easy and accessible as possible.

Here are three blog posts, all relatively short and simple, that should help.

First, I provide the very basics of estate planning which features the six “must have” estate planning documents everyone needs.

For many, the six “must have” estate planning documents is enough. Some Iowans will also want or need a trust.

Second, here are the basics of what you need to know about trusts.

Trusts can be needed and utilized for a number of reasons. Perhaps someone’s assets are too large, too numerous, and/or too complicated and a trust is needed. Perhaps the person simply has a desire to avoid probate. Trusts can also provide a measure of privacy that, say, wills, do not.

Third, you may ask, how does someone go about actually getting these documents? What’s the process of putting together an estate plan? Well, probably every lawyer has a different estate planning process. I naturally prefer mine – I think it’s very client-focused and client-friendly, and allows plenty of give and take between me and you. We’ll have an ongoing dialogue between us to ensure the best plan for you. Really, it only takes five steps to have a full and complete estate plan.

Let’s Talk.

After reading these posts you may still have questions or will want to discuss your personal estate situations. I would love to schedule a time to meet or discuss over the phone. Shoot me an email or give me a call and we’ll start the conversation on what YOU need to leave a lasting legacy and secure future for your loved ones.

If you’re feeling good and want to get started on your estate plan, the best place to begin is with my free, no-obligation Estate Plan Questionnaire.

super hero comic book

You are a superhero. Seriously, you have the ability to change the world or, at the very least, your little corner of it. You can affect this level of change just by asking yourself one simple question: what causes would I like to benefit in my will?

Bequests to Charities in Your Will

Yes, that’s right. You can include the nonprofits you care about most in your will, leaving a legacy after you have passed on. And, it doesn’t cost anything extra! Just the assets you’re choosing to gift. You can include charities like your church, alma mater, a local cause, or an international organization in your estate plan. And, if you ask the charity you care about most, I’ll bet they’ll tell you that the result of your charitable bequest, no matter how big or small, can make a huge impact.

What About My Kids?

When folks come to me for estate planning help, a major reason they do so—perhaps even the single reason they do so—is to benefit their children. Parents often think, “I love Charity X, but of course, I love my kids even more, and I’ve got to take care of my family.” Of course, you do! And, of course, you should! But, ask yourself another question: How much is enough for my kids? If you have lots of assets, and/or your children are adults, and successful on their own, could you provide adequate support for your children and still also include a bequest to one of more charities?

superhero-costume-children

Let’s Talk

Invite the whole family to the kitchen table sometime (even if your kitchen table is a virtual one, via email) and talk about the distributions you want to make at death. Ask if including gifts to charity from your estate plan would be appropriate and acceptable to the kids. Perhaps it’s a charity the whole family supports. Perhaps this will be the beginning of a multigenerational cycle of giving.

Why not talk about it? This can be an especially productive conversation if you can explain that taxes are going to eat up a lot of one or more of the assets anyway, and this can be avoided by giving said asset(s) to charity (since charities are tax-exempt).

Life Insurance

Sometimes when parents give a major asset(s) to charity, and their kids’ inheritance takes a real hit, they’ll buy a new life insurance policy to make up the shortfall to the kids. Or, they may even buy a new life insurance policy and name the charity directly as a beneficiary. There’s also a very helpful kind of trust called an ILIT, that significantly increases the impact of life insurance. Without getting too complicated, let me give you the basics.

An ILIT is an irrevocable, non-amendable trust which is both the owner and beneficiary of one or more life insurance policies. Upon the death of the insured, the trustee invests the insurance proceeds and administers the trust for one or more beneficiaries.

What is the Role of an Estate Planner?

When it comes to estate planning, you’re thinking about so many different variables and scenarios, so what if you forget to factor in charity? Lucky for you, that’s why I’m here—to help you maximize charitable giving. That means determining how your generosity can not only help an organization make a difference but how you can maximize the financial and estate-related benefits from giving.

Studies Showed

A 2013 study* showed how lawyers, like me, can help charitable giving factor in estate planning. The scientifically-conducted research from the UK-based Behavioural Insights Team showed that when lawyers asked clients specific questions regarding charitable giving, the results were significant. Here are the results:

  • Control Group/Baseline

Lawyers who provided no reminder or inquiry to their clients about possibly benefiting a charity in their estate plan (bequests) resulted in 4.9 percent of those clients including a charity in their plans.

  • Test Group One

Lawyers who asked their clients, “Would you like to leave any money to a charity in your will?” resulted in 10.8 percent of their clients including a charity.

  • Test Group Two

Lawyers who said, “Many of our clients like to leave money to a charity in their will. Are there causes you are passionate about?” resulted in 15.4 percent of their clients including a charity. What a dramatic increase!

Here are the approximate dollar values associated with each group:

  • Control Group/Baseline

Average bequest $5,000

  • Test Group One

Average bequest $4,800

  • Test Group Two

Average bequest $10,200

Again, test group two gives a powerful example of the difference charity-minded estate planners can make.

In the study, there were a 1,000 people in each of the groups. That means that the “Test Group Two” raised over $1 million more than the control group.

volunteers taking selfie

What this means for you is that your lawyer plays an important role in reminding, guiding, and assisting you in your charitable giving so that you can use your superpower (giving through your will) to the fullest extent.

In 2017, $35.70 billion was contributed to US charities through bequests. Imagine if everyone worked with a lawyer with a strong focus on charitable giving! The impact could be incredibly transformative for the impact nonprofits can make in our communities.

Let’s Get Started

Harness your superpowers and get started with your legacy today. The best place to start is by filling out my Estate Plan Questionnaire. It’s easy, free, and there’s no obligation. It’s simply a document that gets you thinking and planning. Already have an estate plan, but want to update it to include the causes that are near and dear to your heart? Don’t hesitate to contact me.

Someone pointing into the sunset

Estate planning allows people to elect tools and strategies that makes life for their loved ones as uncomplicated as possible following death. Almost everyone I work with wants to ensure their family members are set up for success.

Dad holding daughter

One such estate planning tool to accomplish this is the handy dandy trust. There are almost limitless different types of trusts; trusts may be classified by their purpose, duration, creation method, or by the nature of the trust property. For instance, there is the fairly common “animal care” or “pet” trust. You can also place almost any asset imaginable in a trust.

For some parents looking to help a son or daughter (minor or adult) with special needs, a trust can be a powerful avenue to continuing to support the loved one. (In this trust situation the child would be the beneficiary of the trust, the parents would be the settlor, and a trustee would be assigned.) Why? In general, the idea is that a special needs trust can use estate assets to enrich and enhance the child’s life while maintaining the individual’s viability for enrollment in public benefits programs. Examples of assistance programs can include Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Medicaid, subsidized housing, and vocational rehabilitation, among others.

Specifics of Special Needs Trust

Smart estate planning for special needs ensures that the parts of the estate which pass on to the individual with special needs are NOT considered an “available asset” by the associated agencies that disperse essential benefits. Many people make the mistake of leaving assets to a loved one with a disability through a will. This is problematic because acquiring assets, such as a significant lump sum of money, can disqualify your loved one from certain government assistance programs. By setting up a special needs trust, instead of solely using a will, you can avoid these issues. How? Because the trustee has total control over the management of the funds, and the beneficiary does not, government program administrators, like the ones from SSI and Medicaid, don’t “count” the trust assets when considering eligibility.

Beyond protecting the beneficiary’s eligibility for public benefits a special needs trust can also:

  • offer assured lifelong money management for the child; and/or
  • establish a pool of available funds in the future event that public benefits should be restricted or revoked.

Careful Drafting Required

It’s important to remember that details of each special needs trust will vary depending on factors like the beneficiary’s age, competency, and familial situation. Also, because of the complexities involved, special needs trusts require extremely careful drafting. So, If you’re even considering establishing a special needs trust as a part of your estate plan, it’s definitely necessary to speak with an experienced estate planning professional to make sure all of the nuances of the trust are executed properly.

Don’t hesitate to contact me with questions via email (gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com) or on my cell phone at 515-371-6077.