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woman in front of painting

If you’re growing an art collection it brings up an interesting situation: how do you incorporate your prized pieces into your estate plan? Sure, you likely don’t have an authentic da Vinci, Renoir, or Klimt just hanging in your living room, but maybe you have a couple of pieces you inherited or a burgeoning modern art collection.

Value of a Passion

For most collectors the art isn’t about monetary value, but more so about a passion for a certain period, artist, or medium. Collecting is often an act of genuine appreciation for the fine arts. Considering both the intrinsic and market value of your art collection it’s ESSENTIAL you include it as a part of your estate plan. The collection is, after all, a part of your total estate’s value and they way it’s handled in your estate plan could impact the value of your gross estate in regards to the federal estate tax. When it comes to the estate planning goal of avoiding such taxes and fees the appraised value of your art is paramount to consider. Naturally, you want your collection to be well-treated following your passing, as well as retain its value.

Let’s go through some important steps and elements to consider.

Assemble Documentation

The value of the collection will be important to the estate plan. If you haven’t done so already, you must correctly catalog, photograph, insure, and appraise the collection. You should also gather all documentation such as appraisals and bills of sale that will need to accompany the artwork as it changes hands upon your estate plan’s execution.

Weigh Your Options

With an art collection, there are three main options for disposition within your estate plan (or to be executed during your life).

Donate

Donating your art to a charitable organization or a museum is an excellent way to practice smart charitable giving. It can also be one of the more simple options. Donate through your estate plan following your death and the estate will receive a tax deduction based on the current valuation. Give while you’re living and you can take an income tax deduction, also based on the value of the piece or collection at the time of the donation.

With this option, you and the recipient organization should agree to signed terms and conditions BEFORE the artwork delivery. Details can include specifics as to where and how the art is to be displayed if you want your name on the signage next to the painting and similar details.

Bequest Artwork to your Loved Ones

Another common option is to keep the art within the family by passing along the art along to your estate’s heirs. Yes, you could gift each individual piece to each family member, but if you want to keep the collection intact you could transfer the collection to a trust you create while living that can be updated and changed during your lifetime. A trust is a solid estate planning tool that allows your named trust beneficiaries to avoid estate tax and probate complications and fees. In the formation of your trust, you can also define the terms for the care and condition of the artwork.

You could instead bequest the collection to an entity like an LLC you create. In this case, your heirs would own interest in the LLC instead of each owning a piece of art. In your estate plan and in the development of the entity you can appoint a manager (or multiple managers) who make sales or purchasing decisions for the collection.

Sell

It goes without saying that art is expensive—to buy and to sell. There are benefits (and detriments) to this option during life and after death, but waiting to sell until after death means the art’s value will be included in the estate. As such the capital gains tax could be lessened or entirely eliminated because the tax basis for the art collection is increased to fair market value at the time of death, instead of what you paid for the art/collection. If you instead would like to sell while alive you can likely expect to pay a capital gains tax on top of a sales commission fee and sales tax (among other potential fees).

Give, gift, sell—whatever option you choose, select a plan that allows you to feel at peace with where and to whom your collection is headed.

Enlist an Expert

Regardless of what option you want to pursue in the disposition of your art work, you need to work with an experienced estate planner who can help navigate the complexity of your estate. It’s your estate planning lawyer who can help you establish a framework for passing along your artwork to your chosen beneficiaries.

Discuss With Your Family

Depending on your family dynamic, discussing your estate plan with your loved ones can be difficult. It can bring up emotion and hard topics like mortality, however, to avoid litigation, mitigate in-fighting, and help determine what’s the best course of action forward for your property it’s necessary. When it comes to your art collection, your heirs may not feel the same way about the artwork that you do and knowing these opinions is critical in the decision of what to do with the collection.

When having the conversation, cultivate an environment in which your family can discuss openly and freely without judgment. You want their honest opinions as a part of your decision in what to do with your collection in the event of your passing.

art graffiti


Just as the art itself can be exceedingly complex, so can incorporating said art into an estate plan. You probably have questions; don’t hesitate to reach out at any time via email or phone (515-371-6077). I offer a free one-hour consultation and would love to help you protect your artistic assets through quality, individualized estate planning.

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.

ethical will

If you’ve visited my blog before you know I can talk often and always about the importance for all Iowans to make a will as a part of a complete estate plan. I highly recommend enlisting an estate planner with good recommendations to draft your individualized estate plan. But even the best estate planner cannot write another type of will you should deeply consider—an ethical will. This is a document that’s best written by the person who knows you the best . . . you.

What is an Ethical Will?

An ethical will isn’t a legal document like a last will and testament or a living trust. An ethical will won’t transfer assets won’t be admitted to a probate court to evidence testator intent. But an ethical will can be extremely meaningful and useful to the loved ones you leave behind. It’s a document where you can transfer immaterial assets—think words of wisdom, lessons learned, stories, documentation of heritage, and values.

Let me be clear, an ethical will certainly does not replace the need for a legal will, but it serves as a compliment or an addition. Rather, an ethical will is the place you can provide explanations for what decisions you make in your estate plan if you so choose. For instance, if you think there will hurt feelings or confusion if a certain family member is selected as the executor of your will, you could articulate your reasoning in an ethical will.

There’s no hard and fast definition for what should go in your ethical will. Unlike a last will and testament, there are no specific formalities. You may consider your ethical will as a collection of documents like journal entries, letters to loved ones, or even just your favorite quotes you live by. Curious about how to get started compiling an ethical will? I would recommend thinking about last words and a lasting legacy. What do you want to make sure gets said, even after you’re gone? For my own ethical will, I would start by just writing a letter to my wife.

One question I often get is where to store estate planning documents? For your ethical will, I recommend storing a physical and digital copy with your other estate planning documents or letter of instruction (if the estate planning documents are only accessible by certain executors). The most important thing will be that the people you want to have access to the ethical will do indeed have access to it.

Need an estate plan? There’s no day like the day for investing a roadmap for your loved ones after you pass. An estate plan can save money, time, bureaucratic red tape, and a whole lot of heartache for your beneficiaries. Don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions about estate planning via email (gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com) or by phone (515-371-6077).

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.

stop hand on sign

Based on every statistic I’ve seen, the majority of Americans don’t want anything to do with estate planning or the perceived headaches that come with it. However, making excuses to avoid investing in a valuable legal set of documents (that comes with numerous benefits) will do nothing to cement your legacy and intent for transfer of assets.

Here are some of the excuses I’ve heard from people about why they don’t have an estate plan:

  • “I don’t have any assets, and just a whole bunch of debt.”
  • “Isn’t that just for rich, older people?”
  • “I don’t need an estate plan my wife and kids are going to inherit everything I own.”
  • “I’m super healthy, so I don’t think I would ever need a health care power of attorney.”
  • “My spouse can take care of it.”
  • “Getting a will made for myself is too expensive and time consuming.”
  • “If I talk too much about it, I might jinx myself.”

Yet, everyone over 18-years old, regardless of age, debts, assets, and marital status should have an estate plan in place. (Here are the six “must have” estate planning documents you can focus on initially.) In the beginning it may feel uncomfortable talking about the details of your estate plan—that’s normal. But, there is deep and lasting peace of mind in knowing that there is a plan in place in the event of your incapacitation or untimely death, which far outweighs any discomfort.

So, cast off all excuses by embracing the benefits of having a strong estate plan in place. The benefits include, but are certainly not limited to, peace of mind, financial security for your family, established guardianships for your children, reducing taxes, fees, and costs, and saving your family and friends untold time, trouble, and heartbreak.

Have questions? Need more information?

A great place to start is the Estate Plan Questionnaire. Of course, feel free to reach out any time. You can contact me by email at Gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com or give me a call at 515-371-6077.

give thanks table with autumn leaves

Thanksgiving weekend is chock full of traditions for families from parade watching and football playing to pie eating and Black Friday shopping. One less obvious activity you should add to the weekend roster is a discussion on estate planning. America’s second favorite holiday, where family and friends come together from near and far, to eat good food and spend quality time together is a prime opportunity to make sure your loved ones have a plan for the future in the case of unexpected death or incapacitation.

thanksgiving table

Now, I don’t recommend questioning your uncle if he has a living will over the turkey table. But, after the food coma wears off, gather your loved ones around in a comfortable spot and strike up a conversation about how estate planning is important for everyone. That includes your brother who has young kids, your mom who donates regularly to the local food bank, and even your cousins who are obsessed with their dogs…there’s a place in estate planning for all of them. Here are a couple tips to make the discussion a success as great as pumpkin pie.

Give the Best Advice at the Table

No one around the family table should be to disclose who they have named as heirs. That could be awkward depending on who’s in the room. (However, discussing your donative intentions should happen privately with beneficiaries and fiduciaries included in your estate plan.) But, you should pass along the great advice that estate plans should be reviewed at least annually and always after a major life event like a birth, death, marriage, divorce, or moving across state lines.

Explain Why Estate Planning is Essential

The benefits of estate planning are numerous and estate planning can be tailored to meet each individual’s unique needs and goals. But, you don’t have to get too into the weeds. Leave that part to the estate planner who’s job it is!

If anyone needs convincing to get started on their estate plan ASAP, simply explain that estate planning is an opportunity to take action as opposed to passing the burden to family members to figure out what to do with their stuff, how to access important accounts/information, and slog through the tedious intestate probate process. Estate planning can create chaos and even incite litigation between heirs over the deceased’s estate. Just like Thanksgiving traditions create a lasting memory, estate planning is your opportunity to leave a lasting legacy.

Offer to Help

Estate planning can sound intimidating to someone who’s never gone through the steps before. Offer to help by recommending an experienced estate planning attorney they can trust.

Pass Along Something Tangible

Want to pass along something beyond just words? You can also share this handy dandy checklist and free, no-obligation Estate Plan Questionnaire.

thanksgiving table

Encouraging all the people you care about to articulate their wishes is truly something to be thankful for! If you or any of your loved ones want more information feel free to contact GFLF for a complimentary consult.

Let’s set everything straight about all the benefits and important aspects of a health care power of attorney.

What is a health care power of attorney?

A health care power of attorney (“POA”) is a legal instrument that allows you to select the person (called an “agent”) that you want to make health care decisions for you, if and when you become unable to make such decisions for yourself.

healthcare power of attorney

What types of decisions can be made by a health care POA?

A health care POA can govern any decision related to your health that you want to address. A health care POA may include decisions related to organ donation, hospitalization, treatment in a nursing home, home health care, psychiatric treatment, end-of-life (i.e. the use of life support), and more.

When would I use a health care POA?

A health care POA is used when you become unable to make health care decisions for yourself. Your agent will be able to make decisions for you based on the information you provided in your health care POA. Equally important, your agent will be access your medical records, communicate with your health care providers, and so on.

doctor stethoscope

What happens if I don’t have a health care POA?

If you don’t have a health care POA, and you should become disabled to the point where you are unable to make health care decisions for yourself, the hospital will do everything possible to save your life.

Your family, without guidance from you, will be faced with agonizing decisions. Your family members may not be able to agree on how to handle your medical care. Or, you might disagree with the decision your family ultimately makes.

If your family can’t agree on a course of action, they would have to go to an Iowa Court and have a conservator/guardian appointed for you. It may, or may not, be someone you would have chosen. Further, the conservator/guardian may make decisions you wouldn’t have made.

This is all very complicated, time consuming, and expensive.  A health care POA simplifies this process by giving you control over how decisions are made for you and allowing you to choose who will carry out your wishes. Best of all, it leaves your family with peace of mind.

Is there a “one-size-fits-all” POA for health care?

No! All Iowans are special and unique, and so are each individual’s issues and concerns. Consequently, this article is presented for informational purposes only, not as legal advice. Please consult your lawyer for personal advice.

Do I need other estate planning documents in addition to a health care POA?

Yes, definitely! (It’s even essential for college students.) There are six “must-have” estate planning documents that make up a complete, comprehensive estate plan. (Plus some people may also need to consider a trust.)


Do you have a health care POA currently? And do you have a complete estate plan? Why or why not? I’d be most interested in any thoughts or comments. Email me anytime at gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com or call 515-371-6077.

final resting place black balloons

There are six main documents that should be part of almost everyone’s estate plan. One of these is called “Disposition of Final Remains.” This document is where you tell your loved ones exactly how you want your body to be treated after you pass away.

It’s best to approach the subject of final disposition of remains with thoughtfulness, consideration, and, yes, indeed, even a little levity. Discussing your passing can feel morbid or even downright creepy. However, taking the time to think through your final services (whatever it is you want) is a wonderful gift to your family. It ensures that clear instructions are passed on, and alleviates, perhaps even eliminates, the avalanche of headaches that inevitably accompanies such planning.

Your estate plan’s disposition of remains directs your family and friends as to how you want your remains handled after you have passed away. This includes your funeral, service, and maybe a place of internment. If you want a party complete with a piñata you can detail that in the disposition of remains. Choices for what to do with your physical remains can include earth burial, above-earth burial, or cremation . . . or you could always go with something unique to you, like being made into a diamond. Some of my clients have insisted that there be only the shortest and simplest of memorial services. Others have wanted a marching band and fireworks shooting their ashes into the sky. (Yes, that is a thing). It’s completely up to you.

fireworks final disposition

What is incredibly important is that you leave clear instructions of your desires, whatever they may be. That way, your loved ones won’t have to guess as to what you would have wanted, during a time that is already stressful, turbulent, and full of grief. Again, leaving behind a fully thought out “disposition of final remains” is a wonderful gift to your loves ones.

Have questions? Need more information?

A great place to start is the free Estate Plan Questionnaire. Feel free to reach out at any time; you can contact me by email at Gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com or give me a call at 515-371-6077.

Heirs at law on beach

Before I explain the concept of “heirs at law,” you might be thinking, why even bring this up? Of what relevance is this “Ye Olde Sounding Phraise” in today’s modern world?

It’s important for me to share the concept of “heirs at law” with you, dear GoFisch blog Reader, for three reasons.

  1. It helps explain why I, and other estate planners, ask so many darn questions. We need lots of info.
  2. The concept of “heirs at law” shows that you need to be open and honest and forthcoming with me, or any estate planner. Without complete transparency and truth, the estate plan runs the risk of being useless (the idea of “garbage in, garbage out” applies here).
  3. “Heirs at law” is yet another reason that a DIY will, or using an online service to produce your will, is just a terrible idea. You need an estate plan crafted by a trusted professional, unique to your special needs. Every family is different, so there can be no “one-size-fits-all” estate plan, and there are many moving parts to a comprehensive estate plan.

With that established, what does the term “heirs at law” actually mean?

Heirs at law are those folks who would inherit your property in the event you died without a will, which is called intestacy.1 It is critically important to determine who the heirs at law are, even for people not subject to the laws of intestacy (i.e., folks who have a will) for two big reasons.

  1. Heirs at law must be notified of the probate process.
  2. Heirs at law are allowed to challenge the will in probate court.

All in the (sometimes complicated) family

As I already stated, it’s a wise idea to work with your estate planner and provide all the information requested. As a practical matter, the extent of information you’ll need to provide your estate planner regarding heirs at law depends of the nature of your family and relatives. For instance, in the case of two people, married only to each other, with children only from that one marriage—then the spouse and children (and perhaps grandchildren) will be the obvious heirs at law.

In another example, a family could also constitute a remarriage with each spouse having children from previous relationships. In this case, the stepchildren would need to be adopted by the applicable stepparent to be considered an heir at law.

In other situations, the client relatives may be much more distant, requiring more fact investigation. For example, take the case of a client who is unmarried and without children. In such a situation, the estate planner will need to pay close attention to identifying other relatives.

Of course, with an estate plan you can bequeath your estate to whomever you choose. You don’t have to give anything to any of your obvious or non-obvious heirs at law or any other relative for that matter. (In colloquial terms we could call this “stiffing your relatives.”) Although with that said, you cannot choose to disinherit a spouse.

This point reiterates why the estate planner should know and have updated contact information of who are the heirs at law. Again, it’s required that heirs at law be notified of probate process and these heirs (unlike a non-relative work colleague or neighbor) also have the legal standing to contest the will in court.

Another reason the estate planner must have knowledge of the heirs at law is to ward off fraudulent claims if need be. This reason is particularly important if the heirs at law are distant relatives. (An unfortunate real-world example of this involves Prince and the complicated intestate process following the singer’s passing without an estate plan.)

Bottom line: heirs at law are important when it comes to the distribution of your estate (with or without a will). Of course, dying intestate is NOT optimal and you DO need a will for a number of important reasons. I’d love to discuss the topic over the phone (515-371-6077) or via email. Don’t hesitate to contact me at any time!


[1] Bonus word! If an Iowan dies without a valid will, they die “intestate” and the laws of “intestate” succession are used to determine who will inherit the estate.

Pets are a huge part of many families. They are there to snuggle you, greet you every day when you come home, and share so many of life’s best memories with you.

For most people, planning what happens to your loved ones, including pets, is a big contributor to sound peace of mind. In the past, probate and trust laws did not allow pet owners to provide for the care of their pets after death, however, in 1990, the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws enacted the first pet trust statute in the Uniform Probate Code. Fortunately, the State of Iowa is one of the majority of states that have adopted a law on animal trusts, most often referred to as “pet trusts.” It reads as follows:

633A.2105 Honorary trusts — trusts for pets.

  1. A trust for a lawful noncharitable purpose for which there is no definite or definitely ascertainable beneficiary is valid but may be performed by the trustee for only twenty-one years, whether or not the terms of the trust contemplate a longer duration.
  2. A trust for the care of an animal living at the settlor’s death is valid. The trust terminates when no living animal is covered by its terms.
  3. A portion of the property of a trust authorized by this section shall not be converted to any use other than its intended use unless the terms of the trust so provide or the court determines that the value of the trust property substantially exceeds the amount required.
  4. The intended use of a trust authorized by this section may be enforced by a person designated for that purpose in the terms of the trust or, if none, by a person appointed by the court

Pet trusts include the following elements:

  • Selecting a caregiver to attend to the daily needs of your pet.
  • It is recommended to name a second caregiver, in case the first can’t adequately care for the pet or decides not to do so.
  • You can include instructions for day-to-day needs as well as overall healthcare. You can be as general or as specific as you’d like.
  • You can set aside monetary distributions, on the condition that it is used for your pet’s needs.
  • The monetary distributions may include a reward/stipend for fulfilling the caregiver role.

Let’s talk about your furry friends and how we can ensure they are provided for in case something happens to you. Give me a call at 515-371-6077 or shoot me an email at gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com.