Posts

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.

football on field

For two formidable teams (New England Patriots vs. Los Angles Rams), it’s the culmination of a season. (And for us, it’s a great excuse to indulge in all the best tailgating snacks.) It’s a grueling seven-month schedule with tons of variables from pre-season training camp to regular season kick-off to post-season playoffs.

Just like all the games leading up to the Super Bowl, a lot can happen throughout a lifetime. So many variables, so many strategies, upsets, and so many potential outcomes.

While it may be difficult to ponder the inevitably of your own timer running out, preparation for what happens after your season ends is indeed necessary.

football estate plan

The Main Players

Estate plan – An estate plan is the whole playbook, generally containing the following documents: your will; healthcare power of attorney; financial power of attorney; disposition of personal property; and final disposition of remains.

Will – A will is a superstar which can accomplish so much for your team. For example, who will quarterback the distribution of your property at the end of the game? You need to make certain the will is well crafted, solid, and can stand up in court. Keep in mind though, important assets such as retirement assets and investment accounts may well contain beneficiary designations that actually trump your will.

Health care power of attorney  & financial power of attorney – Don’t let a sudden disability completely take you out of the game. Have someone strong come off the bench to carry you to your personal goals.

Trust – You have lots of different options with this multi-tool MVP. A trust can help your team in so many different ways and provide you huge advantages in every facet of the game.

Get a Good Playbook!

Thorough planning is the best way to plan for the end of your season so that you and your family are never caught unprepared. When you are no longer around to coach and care for the rest of your “team,” make sure they are both provided for and are provided training on how to keep pushing forward by settling your affairs. A comprehensive estate plan, written by an experienced estate planner, is the best way to do this.

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.

Lineup Adjustments

Pro football coaches switch up who’s starting for the best winning strategy. Similarly, you may well need to make adjustments to your estate plan “lineup” 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 good reason to review your designated representatives, beneficiaries, and overall goals.

Charity Factor

Pro football players make bank, but many also make significant contributions to charities they care about. Some NFL players have founded their own charitable foundation, while others focus on a few nonprofits whose missions they care deeply about. For instance, Chris Long, the Eagles defensive end, announced last fall he will donate his entire salary ($1 million) from the season to educational charities. Most players also work together as a team to give back to their communities. The league as a whole also supports building awareness for nonprofits through initiatives like “My Cause, My Cleats.”

Given their high profile sports status, these players also help inspire folks across the country to do the same. (In one great example, these football fans donated to NFL players’ favorite nonprofits!) You too can be a fierce philanthropist, but without actually having to sprint, throw, or sweat! You can include your favorite charities in your estate plan as beneficiaries. Then there are the other charitable giving tools that can be included as a part of your “end game” like charitable gift annuities and the charitable remainder trust.

Winning Score

I cannot predict who will win the Super Bowl today, but I can say without a doubt that you never know when the game is going to change. You never know when you (and/or your team members) are going to need any one of the documents a part of your estate plan. So, you need to have your “playbook” written out ASAP…well, you can wait until after the big game!

The best place to start on your estate plan 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).

Discussion of will and estate plan

Yes, YOU need a will. If you don’t have a will, it can cost your family and friends not only a lot of time and money, but also lots of anxiety and even heartache.

Here are four major (and certainly not the only) reasons wills are one of the most essential estate planning documents that you should most definitely have.

#1 Without a will, probate courts and the Iowa Legislature decide everything about your estate.

If you die without a will, you are leaving it up to the legislature/courts to decide who will receive your property. In some situations, even who will get to raise your children.

#2 Without a will, you cannot choose a guardian for your children.

You read that right. Without this essential estate planning document, the court will choose guardians for your children. One of the most important aspects of a will is that it allows you to designate who will be the guardian for minor children. This can ensure your children are cared for by the person that you want, not who the court chooses for you.

#3 Without a will, the probate court will choose your estate’s executor.

If you die without a will, the probate court is forced to name an executor. The executor of your estate handles tasks like paying your creditors and distributing the rest of your assets to your heirs. Of course, if the probate court has to pick who will be your estate’s executor there is always a possibility that you would not have approved of that person if you had been alive.

However, if you have this ever important document, it will name an executor who will be responsible for carrying out all of your final wishes, pay your bills, and distribute your assets just as you wanted.

Couple sitting on bench talking about will

#4 Without a will, you can’t give your favorite nonprofits charitable gifts from your estate.

If you die without a will, your estate assets—your house, savings, automobiles, property—will pass to your heirs under Iowa’s statute. This excludes you from the enormous potential to do good by donating charitable gifts to your favorite nonprofits in your will. Testamentary gifts can help ensure causes you care about are supported well into the future.


Do you have a will? Why or why not? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

For Iowans looking for a place to start their estate planning, check out my estate plan questionnaire. It’s free, and provided to you without any obligation. I’m also happy to discuss your individual situation to help determine what estate planning tools are best for you. Reach out via email or phone at any time.

Young couple holding hands

So, WHO needs an estate plan, anyway?

Who needs to be most concerned with estate planning? What age group? 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. Of course, it’s important for this demographic to have a quality estate plan, that’s fairly obvious.

But, imagine a young, married couple. They both have good jobs, live in a fine starter home, and have a baby.

 

crying newborn baby

This young couple tries to put away a little bit of money for savings, in a 529 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:

  • Choosing guardians for minor children. In an estate plan, you can choose the guardians of minor children (e.g., children under age 18). 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 would have chosen. Better to have plenty of time to consider and make a careful, well-reasoned choice.
  • Save on fees, court costs, and taxes. A good estate plan can save you and your estate money on fees, court costs, and taxes. 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 greatest amount they possibly can to family and loved ones.

 

  • Help favorite charities. Having an estate plan means that you can put into place immensely helpful donations for your favorite charities. Without an estate plan there’s no opportunity for you to help your favorite charities
  • 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 and everything.

 

Mom and daughter hugging

Who should be most concerned with estate planning? I actually think young people should be!

Whatever your age, if you are interested in estate planning (as everyone should want to check it off their list), a good place to start is my free Estate Planning Questionnaire. Questions? Want to discuss you personal situation? Contact me for a free consult!

Financials in book

What is a financial power of attorney?

A financial power of attorney is a legal document that designates someone to handle your financial decisions on your behalf.

What happens if I don’t have a financial power of attorney?

If you do not have a power of attorney and you were to become incapacitated, any financial decisions would need to be made by a court-appointed conservator. At a court’s direction, the conservator would handle your financial assets. It’s a quite expensive and time consuming process, especially compared to the relative simplicity of executing a power of attorney.

After I die, can my agent continue to operate under my financial power of attorney?

A common misperception is that your agent will be able to use this power after your death. At your death, any power of the agent is automatically revoked and it will be necessary to switch management to the representative appointed through probate.

Laptop with finance info on it

Who should I choose to serve as an agent?

The agent you choose will be managing your finances, so it is critically important to choose someone trustworthy; someone who will not abuse or exploit this power; someone who will listen to your wishes, goals, and objectives, as included in the document or otherwise communicated; and, someone who will look out for your best interests.

You also have the option of designating a successor agent who can take over if the original agent is unable or unwilling to serve. This is highly recommended.

Who should receive a copy of my financial power of attorney?

The person named as agent and any person named as a successor agent should receive a copy. It would also be wise to share a copy with your financial institution(s), such as your bank or credit union.

Can I revoke the financial power of attorney?

Yes, you may revoke the document, at any time. You can also amend the document (change it, revise it, etc.) at anytime.


Financial power of attorney is one of the six main documents which comprise Iowans’ estate plans. To get started on establishing your financial power of attorney contact me by phone at 515-371-6077 or email.

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!

You’ve probably heard you need to have a financial power of attorney in place, but the whole thing seems a little ambiguous…what does this important document (which is an important part of a complete estate plan) actually mean? Let’s cover the basics.

What is a financial power of attorney?

A financial power of attorney (“POA”) is a legal document that designates someone to handle your financial decisions on your behalf, if you are unable to do so while living, due to incapacitation. (Note that upon death, your financial power of attorney terminates and your will and/or trust kick in to guide decision making in your absence.)

There are two main types of financial power of attorney I offer my clients.

  • Immediate power—effective from the moment you sign it, without any medical certification; while immediate, you do not lose control of your affairs. (This is typically what I recommend.)
  • Springing power—becomes effective only upon medical certification that you are unable to carry on your legal and financial affairs.

What happens if I don’t have a financial POA?

If you don’t have a financial POA, and you were to become incapacitated, any financial decisions would need to be made by a court-appointed conservator. Under a court’s direction, the conservator would handle your financial matters. It’s a quite expensive and time consuming process, especially compared with the relative simplicity of executing a financial POA. Also, needless to say, most people would elect to trust their important financial decisions to a person they love and trust, over someone the court appoints.

After I die, can my agent continue to operate under my financial POA?

A common misperception is that your agent will be able to use this power after your death. Instead, at your death, any of the agent’s powers will be automatically revoked. The representative appointed through the probate process will carry out your estate plan.

Who should I choose to serve as my “attorney-in-fact?”

two people talking on the beach

The agent (or attorney-in-fact) you choose will be managing your finances, so it is critically important to choose someone trustworthy; someone who will not abuse or exploit this power; someone who will listen to your wishes, goals, and objectives, as included in the document or otherwise communicated; and someone who will look out for your best interests.

You also have the option of designating a successor agent who can take over if the original agent is unable or unwilling to serve. This is highly recommended.

Who should receive a copy of my financial POA?

The person named as agent and any person named as a successor agent should receive a copy. It may also be wise to share a copy with your financial institution(s), such as your bank/credit union, as well as with your financial advisor and/or accountant.

Can I revoke my financial POA?

Yes, you may revoke the financial POA at any time. You can also amend the financial POA (change it, revise it, etc.) at any time.

Are there other estate planning documents I need?

Yes, definitely! There are six “must have” estate planning documents. The financial power of attorney is one of these documents that create a comprehensive estate plan.

Who needs a financial power of attorney?

I’m a staunch believer that every adult Iowan needs an estate plan—including young professionalsnewlyweds, the non-wealthy, and especially people with minor children—and, therefore a financial power of attorney. A financial power of attorney can even be incredibly important (but often overlooked) for college students.


Do you have a financial POA? How about a full estate plan in place? Why or why not? I’d love to hear from you. Email me at gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com or call (515-371-6077).

woman doing photo at sky

You’ve almost certainly had to designate your beneficiaries on savings and checking accounts, life insurance plan, annuity, 401(k), pension, or IRA. All of these accounts are passed along at the time of death via beneficiary designation (sometimes referred to as payable on death (PODs) or transfer on death (TODs) accounts). It’s easy to forget, but beneficiary designations take precedence over whatever is written in your will. So, even if you have the six basic “must have” estate planning documents in place, you still need to address who is named as your beneficiaries.

I have a few simple tips for reviewing and protecting your important accounts:

  1. Be sure to name a primary beneficiary (or beneficiaries), using the appropriate beneficiary designation forms.
  2. Be sure to also name an alternate beneficiary in case the first beneficiary dies before you.
  3. Don’t name your estate as the beneficiary (not without lots of expert advice).
  4. Review the beneficiary forms once a year to make sure they still reflect your wishes.
  5. Update the beneficiary forms more often if there has been a change in your life circumstances, such as a birth, adoption, marriage, divorce, or death. For example, if you’ve gotten a divorce you may not want your ex-spouse to be the beneficiary of your life insurance.
  6. Each time you change the beneficiary designation form, send it to the organization that holds the account, and request they acknowledge receipt.

 

couple holding hands in green space

Checking your beneficiary designations is a smart estate planning step you can take today. But, of course, you’re going to need a solid estate plan to account for all of your assets that are not transferred via beneficiary designation. A great way to get your key estate plan documents started is by downloading my free, no-obligation Estate Plan Questionnaire. You can also contact me by phone (515-371-6077) or email with any questions or concerns.

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 Canada).

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.