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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.

books on a table

Hopefully, by now you have had a chance to read last month’s GoFisch Book Club pick, “Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die.” While I could complain about how the weather right now in Iowa is in a perpetual state of snow-ice-snow-wind-freezing rain, it’s actually a great excuse to curl up with cocoa and a great book. The title for this month is not a new book, but it is an enticing, mystery involving, what else, estate planning!sycamore row

Published in 2013, John Grisham’s Sycamore Row leads readers on a trip to the south in 1980’s Mississippi where a wealthy white man, Seth Hubbard, commits suicide and leaves his entire estate to his black housekeeper, Lettie Lang, instead of his two adult children, Herschel and Ramona. (I bring up the race of the characters because racism and prejudice are important themes in the novel’s setting and plot conflicts.) Sycamore Row is a sequel for fan-favorite character and fictional attorney, Jake Brigance, who was introduced to the world in Grisham’s most famous book, A Time to Kill.

Brigance is instructed by the decedent to defend his will against the inevitable controversy and litigation he anticipates will ensue. Over the course of the thriller, another will is unearthed which disposes the estate to Hubbard’s children. There are also serious questions about Hubbard’s purported testamentary capacity, as well as undue influence on the legal documents in question.

Grisham’s career as an attorney has clearly influenced his writing, and this novel offers suspense and intrigue around the topic of estate planning, while also reinforcing the importance of making a valid estate plan, keeping it updated, and discussing your decisions with your family.

What are your thoughts on Sycamore Row? I would love to hear them! Also, if the book inspires you to make certain you have a valid estate plan in place so that you can disperse your estate in accordance with your wishes, don’t hesitate to contact me! You can also get started on your estate plan with my free, no-obligation Estate Plan Questionnaire.

Here’s the worst-case scenario: You’ve passed away and your family falls, expectedly or unexpectedly, into a tumultuous state. They all have different opinions on how your estate plan should be interpreted, and one or more beneficiaries want to contest the distributions. While everyone knows it’s all about the money, there are easily enough legal “hooks” on which to hang a lawsuit: it can be contested that there has been undue influence, document forgery, breach of fiduciary duty, or that the deceased testator was not of sound mind.

woman and man talking about litigation

Litigation over an estate plan is terrible for everyone involved. For the sake of your family’s well-being work now to avoid this problem in the future—I really cannot express this enough.

Three Best Ways to Avoid Litigation

  1. Have a plan. Having an estate plan that is carefully planned and well thought out, created by an experienced estate planner, and completed well in advance of any death or disability is the single best way to avoid litigation.
  2. Talk about it. It’s critically important to discuss your final wishes with your loved ones and beneficiaries. Clear the air now. Don’t leave it up for future interpretation.
  3. Include a clause that discourages litigation. An experienced estate planner can include a provision in your estate plan to shut out a beneficiary if s/he brings litigation. (This is also important why you need an actual lawyer to help craft your estate plan.)

I would love to discuss your individual estate planning needs; contact me via email at gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com or give me a call at 515-371-6077. Want to get started on your estate plan? My free, no-obligation estate plan questionnaire is a good place to start.

two women sitting on bench

One of the worst-case scenarios for any family is to avoid estate planning conversations completely because you risk offending a loved one.

I’ve known some couples who haven’t been able to agree on an important decision, such as who will take care of the children in the event of them both passing. Since they can’t reach an agreement they decide to bypass the conversation entirely and leave their children without a legal guardian. Which is, of course, the worst possible decision of all!

How you communicate your wishes to your family depends entirely on the family dynamic. One interesting concept I’ve heard of for family heirloom-decisions is to give your beneficiaries monopoly money and have them bid against each other for different items in an auction format. While that could make for a fun (albeit competitive) game night, it’s important that your loved one realize the importance and finality of an estate plan.

No matter how you determine decisions such as property dispersal, a professional estate planner can help you fully understand all the implications of your estate plan.

Tricky Family Situations

I’ve seen variations of this potentially tricky situation many times.

Three brothers grow up on a farm. Eventually, two of the brothers moved to the city while the third continued to run the farm’s operations. When their parents passed away, the third brother who had managed the farm, inherited the entire property while the brothers received none of the farm assets. As you can imagine, even if two of the brothers were not actively involved in the farm’s operations, if the parents died without discussing the estate arrangement with all of their children conflict could ensue between the siblings.

Then consider if the parents in this scenario divided out the farm assets between the brothers, whether or not they had a hand in helping manage the property. The brother who actually, actively manages the farm may feel slighted. Either way, such situations are made thorny when there’s no upfront, clear communication.

Bottom Line

two young people talking near beach

Estate planning can be an extremely difficult decision-making process. It is something that should be discussed with your loved ones, family members, and beneficiaries, especially when your choices may take them by surprise. Help everyone — yourself included — achieve peace of mind by seeking professional help to draft a sturdy estate plan. And then your estate planner can help you communicate your decisions to your loved ones.

Have questions? Need more information?

A great place to get started with your estate plan is with my free (no obligation) Estate Plan Questionnaire or feel free to reach out at any time.

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 actually 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 both you peace of mind and relieves future stress your loved ones. If you pass away or are incapacitated without certainly documents (like health care and financial powers of attorney in place) it make 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.

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’s a couple tips to make the discussion a success as great as pumpkin pie.

Non-Disclosure is Best

No one should be pressured or needs to disclose whom they have named as heirs! That could be awkward depending on who’s in the room. 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.

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.

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.

woman in front of painting

The headlines are abuzz with a new world record for any artwork sold at an auction or privately. Leonardo da Vinci’s painting, “Salvator Mundi,” sold for $450.3 million (including the auction house fees) at Christie’s in New York to a private buyer, after an intense 20 minutes of phone bidding.

Why such a high price when the piece definitely had a good deal of scrutiny around it? For instance, it was major part of an art scandal known as “The Bouvier Affair,” was central in a legal dispute, and had been heavily restored. Additionally, it’s authenticity is doubted by some experts as not a work by the grand master himself, but perhaps his studio. Nevertheless, the piece was executed around 1500 on a commission for King Louis XII of France, was lost for centuries, and was not publicly rediscovered until an estate sale in the U.S. in 2005 where the piece, thought to be a copy, was purchased by a group of buyers for just $10,000. It’s thought to be one of fewer than 20 paintings known to exist by da Vinci. “Christie’s called the work ‘the Last da Vinci,’ the only known painting by the Renaissance master still in a private collection (some 15 others are in museums).”

All of this art excitement brings up an interesting situation to consider: how do you incorporate your art collection 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 pieces you inherited or a growing 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

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 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 to help determine what’s the best course of actions 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.