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College student in graduation robes

If your child went to college this year you likely helped them acquire apartment/dorm essentials, review their class schedule, and file all the necessary paperwork for enrollment, student loans, financial aid, and the like. Give yourself a pat on the back; as a parent you should feel great that the small human you raised is beginning to charter the course for a successful, fulfilling life!

However, there are likely two important documents you (and your college student) didn’t have on the college prep list: power of attorney for healthcare and financial power of attorney.

I encourage every Iowan to have these essential documents a part of their quality estate plan. However, college students are in a unique position since many don’t yet have the need for a full estate plan if they don’t have children, pets, substantial financial assets, real estate, at the time they head off for their undergraduate education. But, even if a college student doesn’t have a need for an entire estate plan, they still need these power of attorney documents. Let’s review both.

Power of Attorney for Health Care

A power of attorney for health care designates someone to handle your health care decisions for you if you are deemed unable to make those 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.

Keep in mind that power of attorney for healthcare isn’t just about end-of-life decisions—it can cover any medical situation. So, in a worst case scenario, if your (adult) child were to have some sort of debilitating accident and were deemed by a medical professional unable to make health care decisions for themselves, then a trusted adult, like you (the parent), named as their health care representative could make such decisions in the best interest of their physical health. A similar situation could occur if your student were to have a mental health emergency. If deemed temporarily incapacitated by a doctor, health care power of attorney could allow you to commit them for the evaluation and treatment needed. 

Power of Attorney for Finances

The power of attorney for finances is similar to the power of attorney for health care; your designated agent has the power to make decisions and act on your behalf when it comes to your finances. This gives the selected agent the authority to pay bills, settle debts, sell property, or anything else that needs to be done if you become incapacitated and unable to do this yourself.

While college students may not have many financial assets, their bank accounts, credit cards, and apartment leases in their name should all be taken into consideration and accounted for. Additionally, a financial power of attorney can cover digital assets including online accounts for their school, banking, email, and social media, among others. Without passing along the necessary digital information and instructions to digital accounts, parents if they’re the authorized representative, can face major headaches on issues such paying bills, accessing bank records, shutting down social media profiles, and the like she says.

Course of Action: Avoid Court

Having power of attorney documents in place also prevents someone, like you as a parent, from having to go to court to get permission to act as the student’s proxy. Avoiding court at all costs is a wise plan as it’s both time consuming and expensive.

Does State Residency Matter?

A power of attorney that’s validly executed in the state in which an individual has full-time residency is usually honored across the U.S. But, what if your child is enrolled at a school out-of-state? Not a problem. Simply have your in-state attorney contact a recommended attorney in the state where the school is located to confirm the power of attorney document would be valid in that state and if not, recommend provisions to ensure it would be.

College student tossing cap into air

Why Now?

When your child is a minor (under age 18) you need certain legal documents such as nomination of guardianship. Once your child turns 18 (AKA becomes a legal adult) they are no longer under your immediate care as their guardian you as their parent are no longer responsible for making their healthcare decisions. Yet, all of us need someone we trust to make decisions in our best interest, which is why adults (even college students and young professionals) need power of attorney documents established.

How to get Started? Have a conversation.

As a parent you cannot force your college student to sign a power of attorney, but you may be one of the best people to discuss the topic. While a topic that includes debilitating injuries and the prospect of death is not a pleasant one for anyone involved, it’s nonetheless important. As a trusted adult you can explain how these documents could make a vital difference in some health and financial related situations. A good place to start in the conversation is explain what the documents are and how they can be used to execute their personal wishes.


I’m always happy to help more Iowans (at any age) get the necessary estate planning documents they need. Contact me by phone or via email at gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com and we can get started.

father's day

Happy Father’s Day to all the dads, grandpas, uncles, and father figures out there! There are many kinds of fathers, from the beer-drinking to the book-reading, from the golf-loving to the car-fixing, to all of the above. And, just like there’s not one kind of way to be a dad, there’s no single type of father that needs an estate plan; everyone needs an estate plan regardless of the size of your tool shed. That’s why today is a great day to talk to your dad about estate planning.

Of course, estate planning can be a difficult subject to broach over grilling or yard work, but it’s an important conversation to have to see where your father is at. And, you can’t go buy an estate plan at the store or have one made for him, but in terms of long-term value, an estate plan is one of the best moves your dad could make.

Your father has likely taught you so much over the years. This could be your opportunity to give back to him and help him out with something for once by sharing information or just offering encouragement to complete the estate planning process.  Let’s consider a couple of different scenarios.

If Your Dad Doesn’t Know Much About Estate Planning

That’s okay! This is your chance to share some important basics about what estate planning entails. There are three main points you can pass along and then feel free to direct him to an experienced estate planning attorney who can explain the rest.

  1. Without an estate plan, there are major detriments. You cannot choose who receives your assets, how much and when. If a father has minor children they cannot choose who is the main guardian for the children if something were to happen to both parents/guardians. Without an estate plan, you also cannot choose your executor (the person to carry out the closing of your estate). Furthermore, if you die without an estate plan, all your assets— house, savings, retirement plans, and so on—will pass to your heirs at law as specified under Iowa’s statutes. Also, without an estate plan, the probate process can be even more cumbersome, time-consuming, and difficult on what is likely to already be a stressful time for loved ones.
  2. A basic estate plan includes six key documents. An estate plan questionnaire helps to organize important information in a single document. (Your estate planner will use this to ensure the documents are individualized to your estate’s unique needs.) A “last will and testament” is just one of those documents. The other documents in a basic estate planning package include: health care power of attorney; financial power of attorney (including an advanced directive, if desired); disposition of personal property; and disposition of final remains.
  3.  Your dad may be in need of a trust depending on his estate planning goals, size of the estate, and other considerations like ownership business.

Getting started with the process is easy. I recommend starting with my free, no-obligation estate plan questionnaire or giving me a call.

If Your Dad Already Has an Estate Plan

Give your dad a high-five because he’s ahead of the curve! Seriously, more than half of Americans do not have essential estate planning documents. However, there may be some points that you dad forgot about or needs to revisit.

Beneficiary Designations

Beneficiary designations are notoriously forgotten because they can be set once and then, even if things change, people forget to switch the name. Imagine the scenario of Beneficiary designations (sometimes called PODs and TODs) on accounts like savings and checking accounts, life insurance, annuities, 401(k)s, pensions, and IRAs. Make sure that designations are correctly filled out and supplied to the appropriate institution. Of course, remember to keep these beneficiary designations current as well.

Revisit Regularly

If things change in your personal life you may well need to update your estate plan. Some examples are if marital status changes; a new child or grandchild is born; a named beneficiary passes away; you move to a new state or buy property in a different state; or there’s a significant change in financial situation.

Additionally, sometimes changes to laws (like the federal tax code) can impact the structure and most advantageous tools for estate planning. Any estate planner worth their weight should be able to tell you if your current estate plan aligns with any changes to laws.

I recommend to my clients that they review their estate plans once a year to make sure everything still fits with your estate planning goals.

Give the Best Gift this Father’s Day

I understand you can’t really “give” your dad an estate plan, but you can help him check this major legal “must” off the life checklist by helping point him the right direction. You can also offer your assistance when it comes to gathering important documents or information for the Estate Plan Questionnaire. Let your dad know that when he’s ready to discuss his planning decisions that you’ll be there to listen, and if necessary, bring your siblings (if any) and other family members to the table so that everyone is on the same page. (Note that all the aforementioned information totally applies to mothers too!)

father with family

Questions, concerns, or otherwise from you or your father? Contact me at any time via email or phone (515-371-6077). I also offer a free consultation and make house calls!

 

wine and glasses

A fancy dinner out on the town is nice. Going to see a show is great. A trip to the spa for a couple’s massage is romantic. All are excellent date ideas and I fully recommend you pursue them! But, in addition, there’s one unconventional date idea you and your significant other should consider this Valentine’s Day: reviewing your estate plan.

forever scrabble tiles

Don’t worry, even though I’m an attorney I totally understand that reviewing multiple pages of a legal document isn’t outright romantic (much to the relief of my wife). However, because I am an estate planning attorney I know realistically how important it is to keep your estate plan updated and current. Taking time with your significant other to consider your current and future assets, as well as your estate planning goals is a practical “date” with major benefits for the future like saving time, money, and eliminating hardship on your family and friends.

Major life events like the birth of a child or grandchild, marriage or divorce, moving to a new state, a major change in financial situation, and/or the loss of a designated representative or beneficiary could necessitate changes to your estate plan to keep it valid.

An outdated estate plan could more easily be challenged in probate court or create unnecessary tensions between your loved ones. (This is yet another reason estate planning relates to the concept of love so well—the act of proper, quality estate planning can reduce the likelihood of future tensions and conflicts. Knowing that with a bit of planning and annual updates you can give your family and friends clear instructions that allow them to sidestep drama is certainly an act of love in its own right.)

Let’s use some hypothetical examples to explore why it’s necessary to update your will and the other important estate planning documents. If you have minor children you should have nominated a guardian in your will in case something was to happen to you. Let’s say the primary guardian you nominated has since moved far away—this may mean you need to consider nominating a new guardian.

In another example, it came to light since you made your estate plan that your financial power of attorney designated representative has fallen on hard times due to a gambling addiction…you’ll seriously need to consider amending the document and designating a different representative.

Speaking of change, remember too that state and federal laws are perpetually changing and when certain rules change, so too must your estate plan. Case in point? The “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017,” AKA the new GOP tax bill. For instance, the changes to the federal transfer tax exemptions could impact decisions as to if a certain type of trust is applicable. Again, this is where an experienced professional estate planner, whose job it is to stay up on these policy changes so you don’t have to, is beneficial.

two shells make a heart

A Legal & Loving Tradition

Again, it’s a good idea to review your estate plan at least once a year even though estate plans never expire. What better date reminder for a long-lasting document indicating a standing commitment to care and support than Valentine’s Day? Make it a tradition! (You can even drink wine and eat a box of chocolates while you review.) Along with reviewing the estate planning documents, it’s smart to check in with your professional advisors like your estate planner, financial advisor, insurance agent, and the like.

Of course, if you don’t have an estate plan yet that’s the first step. Even more “romantic” than reviewing your estate plan? Filling out my Estate Plan Questionnaire! Don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions and share the results of your estate plan review with me via the hashtag #PlanningForLove on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

heart lock on bridge

You’ve been perpetually reminded by commercials, Facebook ads, and the candy aisle at the store that everyone’s favorite pink, red, and chocolate-dipped holiday is coming up quick. In this #PlanningForLove series through February 14, I’m featuring different aspects of how estate planning oddly but perfectly fits in with a day all about love. For this post, I’m going to focus on married couples because, despite the commercialization and overpriced flowers, Valentine’s Day seems as good as time as any to celebrate your spouse!

Let’s face it, it’s a miracle any of us find a soul mate, a best friend, a partner in crime…whatever you call them…that not only tolerates all your weirdness on the daily, but also still loves you “for richer or poorer” and “through sickness and in health.” I can think of no better way to honor that kind of long-term commitment than to take the appropriate estate planning steps with your sweetheart in mind. I realize it may not be the most romantic gesture, but it’s WAY more valuable than stale chocolates or a heart-holding teddy bear. And, like your love, there is no expiration date on an estate plan.

For richer or poorer makes a lot of sense when put in the context that someday you are going to pass away and you probably want to pass your assets to your spouse (and heirs at law) while also minimizing the burdens. If you die without a will it will cost your beloved a lot of time and money, on top of anxiety and even heartache.

In sickness and health also directly relates to one of the main estate planning documents. For instance, say you were in an accident and were severely incapacitated. You would want to have your health care power of attorney established and kept updated (many spouses choose one another as the designated representative), so that important medical decisions could be made by someone you trust to do what’s in your best interest.  The same goes for a financial power of attorney. There are many aspects of your separate finances you may want to designate to your spouse so they could settle or manage specific assets in the case that something happened to you.

Beyond the numerous benefits that come with the six main estate planning documents that all Iowans need (yes, all Iowans, young and old; rich and not wealthy!), what are the other considerations of spouses should have in regard to estate planning?

couple in love with writing on wall

What’s Mine is Yours: Common Law Property

The majority of states, including Iowa, are called “common law property” states. (As opposed to the alternative—community property states—which applies to eight states.)

In this case, “common law” is simply a term used to determine the ownership of property acquired during the marriage. As in, the common law system provides that property acquired by one member of a married couple is owned completely and solely by that person. Of course, if the title or deed to a piece of property is put in the names of both spouses, then that property would belong to both spouses. If both spouses’ names are on the title, each owns a one-half interest.

If your spouse were to pass away in a common law state, his or her separate property is distributed according to his or her will, or according to intestacy laws without a will. The distribution of marital property depends on how the spouse’s share ownership—the type of ownership.

If spouses own property in “joint tenancy with the right of survivorship” or “tenancy by the entirety,” the property goes to the surviving spouse. This right is actually independent of what the deceased spouse’s will says. However, if the property was owned as “tenancy in common,” then the property can go to someone other than the surviving spouse, per the deceased spouse’s will. Of course, not all property has a title or deed. In such cases, generally, whoever paid for the property or received it as a gift owns it.

‘Til Death do us Part: Forced Share Law

If married, technically your spouse cannot disinherit you. An Iowa statute allows spouses to take a “forced share” against the will. In short, the surviving spouse has a choice; the spouse can inherit any property bequeathed to him/her under the will, OR the spouse can take a forced share. So, even if a will leaves nothing for the surviving spouse, the surviving spouse can take a forced share against the will.

Under Iowa law (specifically, Iowa Code § 633.238), a surviving spouse that elects against the will is entitled to:

  • One-third of the decedent’s real property;
  • All exempt personal property that the decedent held; and,
  • One-third other personal property of the decedent that is not necessary for payment of debts and other charges.

In other words, a surviving spouse can choose (elect) after your death to basically ignore your will or trust that doesn’t provide for said surviving spouse, and take approximately one-third of your estate.

For example, if you left your entire estate to your children and not your spouse, your spouse can say, “You know, I don’t like this at all. I’ll take one-third of my dead spouse’s estate. Thank you!” And, pretty much just like that, boom, the surviving spouse can do so.

Preferred Portability: Unlimited Marital Deduction

The unlimited marital deduction is a money-saving must for married couples. The unlimited marital deduction is an essential estate preservation tool because it means an unrestricted amount of assets can be transferred (at any time, including at death) from one spouse to the other spouse, free from taxes (including the estate tax and gift tax). Note that the marital deduction is available only to surviving spouses who are U.S. citizens. If your spouse is not a U.S. citizen, look at other tools, such as a qualified domestic trust (QDOT), which may act to minimize or eliminate taxes.

Property Passage

If you acquired property (like a house or other significant asset) before getting married, take a look at re-titling property (such as a home) from sole ownership to joint tenancy. This means that if one spouse were to pass, the other would get the property without it passing through probate. (Depending on your situation, you could also consider “tenancy in common” as another option for holding property titles under multiple names.)

love me when I'm dead graffiti

Joint Representation is Optional

Married couples often seek joint representation in estate planning, meaning they both utilize the same estate planning lawyer. (And, yes, you most definitely want to hire a qualified, experienced estate planner.)  The benefits are obvious; joint representation can be cost-effective and can be more efficient since you can work together on a single Estate Plan Questionnaire in preparation to meet with the estate planning lawyer. Another advantage is that the joint representation somewhat forces open and honest communication between you as a couple as you make decisions on beneficiaries (such as children and grandchildren), executors, and disposition of property.

However, individual representation is, of course, an option and can help couples avoid conflicts of interest.) There are times when it is best for each spouse to seek separate legal counsel. One such time is when there are different interests that are at odds with each other. For example, if one or both people have children from a previous marriage/relationship that will be named as beneficiaries. There can be conflicting interests between stepparents and stepchildren when it comes to the estate. Additionally, if you both have your own individual estate planning lawyer, you may have more freedom to voice individual concerns, without having to audit your opinions in accordance with your partner’s desires.

All You Need is Love…and an Estate Plan

You’ve worked hard for the life you’ve built together with your spouse. This Valentine’s Day, give a gift that ensures your commitment will carry on even after one of you passes on. The best way to get started is with my free, no-obligation Estate Plan Questionnaire. You can also email or call (515-371-6077) me at any time. I’d love to explain more how an estate plan says, “I love you,” way better than a card ever could!

bowl of heart candy

Thanks for reading the #GoFisch blog! Now through February 14 I’m sharing how flowers, jewelry, or chocolate are not the only gifts that say, “I love you.” While not explicitly romantic, a personalized, quality estate plan speaks to that lifelong consideration and care be it for your significant other, your children, or even simply yourself. 

Typical Valentine’s Day gifts usually come in the expected packaging—velvet or heart shaped-boxes topped with silky ribbons and complete with a red rose or a sappy card. But, an estate plan is not your typical Valentine’s present and therefore needs some special storage. You’re more than welcome to put a bow on the documents following the signing…finishing your estate plan is something worth celebrating! However, a gift bag won’t do for safely and securely protecting your estate plan.

I give my clients guidance on where to store their original estate plan documents because it should be both be kept private and safe, but should still be practical and accessible by those who need it such as your will’s executor or designated representative for financial matters. So, where specifically should your keep your original estate plan? There are a few different options.

In Your Home or Office

office space with flowers

When you think accessibility, the places you spend the majority of your time, such as your home or office, are going to be obvious choices. Some of my clients who’ve chosen this option even invested in a water- and fire-proof safe. (Of course, if you get a safe, folks who need to access the estate plan, such as a spouse or child, obviously need access to the lock combo!) In any case, put the plan in a spot that’s likely to be protected from flooding or fire. For example, a dark, dank basement may not be the best place to keep your original estate plan documents. However, in your home office, in your desk’s top locked drawer (assuming others have a key), would be a much better spot.

Caution: No Treasure Hunts

Some people think “hiding” their will is a solution to any security concerns. This, however, inhibits accessibility! Sure, people may not be able to find your will while you’re living, but that also means your loved ones are unlikely to find it when they need it in the case that you suddenly pass away or are incapacitated and cannot communicate where it is. This is problematic for multiple reasons. First, your wishes cannot formally be known and therefore not fulfilled, and if the document cannot be found, the presumption is you either did not make a plan or you intended to revoke/destroy it. In the case of your death, the court will then act as if you died “intestate,” or without a will. The long probate process will ensue, and after some substantial court fees, your estate will pass to your heirs-at-law as determined by state law. (Almost everyone I’ve ever met would have their estate pass according to their terms and not some impersonal law.)

Safety Deposit Box

 

I know many folks who keep their important documents like birth certificates and social security cards in their safety deposit box. And when it comes to your original estate plan documents, your safety deposit box is a good option. Except, and this is hugely important, the safety deposit box must be readily accessible by executors, agents, and other fiduciaries. This requires making sure that your bank or credit union has the “right people on file.” Also, don’t assume that just because both you and your spouse have access to the safety deposit box, that is sufficient. What if there’s a joint accident or joint disaster and you’re both incapacitated? Sit down and talk with your bank or credit union to make absolutely certain those who need access to the safety deposit box will definitely have access in case of an emergency. Otherwise, a court order may be required before your financial institution will grant access, which equates to more bureaucratic hold-ups costing time, money, and even worse, adding additional stress for loved ones.

safety deposit box

 With Your Designated Representative

So far, we’ve been talking about your original estate plan documents (with “wet” signatures). An original is always better than a copy. But a copy is better than nothing.  Consider giving a copy of your estate plan to the executor of your will or successor trustee of your revocable living trust, and other named fiduciaries.

The person you designate as your personal representative has the important job of settling your estate and they will need to be armed with your estate plan in order to reference your wishes and provide proof that they are authorized to take certain actions. This option makes a lot of sense considering this representative will have immediate cause to reference the paperwork following your death.

two people drinking tea

Up in the Cloud

I always recommend you retain a paper copy of your original estate plan, but there are many valid and secure options of also storing your key documents in the digital cloud. Like any financial, health, or other personal information accessible online, make certain you have a strong password and security. And, just like a paper version, at least your executor and other designated representatives will need to be able to access the plan when necessary. Whether that’s through an online beneficiary designation or by allocating the password to your executor or another trusted custodian, that’s up to you.

To recap: an estate plan can make a wonderful Valentine’s Day gift that shows love and commitment to your favorite people. And, since you spent time, effort, and money to create an estate plan that meets your goals, it’s essential to keep it in proper storage. Remember: if no one knows you created a plan or no one has access to it, it’s as if you never had one at all.

Before you can store your estate plan, you NEED an estate plan! The best place to get started is with my Estate Plan Questionnaire, or contact me.

Arrows pointing up

An estate plan is simply a set of legal documents to prepare for your death or disability. The specific documents you’ll need depends on various factors, including the number, size, type of your assets, and your overall estate planning goals.

If forced to list the top 10 major components and the associated goals of a comprehensive estate plan, I’d list the following (in rough order of importance):

  1. A plan for orderly disposition of all your property of your choosing.
  2. Naming guardians to raise and care for minor children.
  3. Naming fiduciaries to handle minor children’s assets.
  4. A plan to help fund the charities you supported during your lifetime.
  5. A financial power of attorney so you can name an agent to manage your financial decisions, if you are ever unable to do so, with as specific (or non-specific) directions to the agent as you desire.
  6. A healthcare power of attorney so you can name an agent to manage your financial decisions, if you are ever unable to do so, with as specific (or non-specific) directions to the agent as you desire.
  7. A plan for succession or sale of a business (often a close corporation or family business).
  8. A plan to dispose of property in a tax advantaged manner.
  9. Planning for life insurance to support those economically dependent on you and/or to provide liquidity for the estate.
  10. Making known your wishes (whether simple or complex) regarding the disposition of your final remains.

Of course, any order of importance is unique to that individual. Someone with, say, minor children will find items #2 and #3 incredibly important. Someone else with adult children, or no children at all, but with a very large estate may look at #8 as quite significant. One list doesn’t fit all, just like there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for estate planning.

 

woman cheering at water's edge

What are your estate planning goals? Feel free to share with others in the comments below.

Estate planning is a smart step you can take today. The easiest way to get started is with my free, no-obligation estate plan questionnaire. If you have questions or want to discuss your individual situation, don’t hesitate to reach me by phone (515-371-6077) or email.

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.

fiduciary

A fiduciary role is one of the highest, strongest relationships between people. It is a role involving the highest care and the greatest importance. The people you choose to fulfill these roles should be carefully considered; they should be those whom you have the utmost confidence in.

Examples of common fiduciary roles include the executor of your will, trustees of your trusts, guardianships of your children, and agents for your financial and healthcare power of attorney. Other fiduciary roles include attorney, accountant, banker and/or credit union manager.

Often times, people choose corporate executors to remove some of the liability and risk, since corporate executors are familiar with the estate planning process. A corporate executor is going to know the drill. With a corporate executor, you have a true estate planning professional that knows and understands

If you DO choose to name a private individual to a fiduciary role within your estate plan, you need to ensure they are trustworthy, organized, and reliable.

The American Bar Association has comprehensively defined the different fiduciary duties as:

  • Duty of care;
  • Duty of loyalty;
  • Duty to account;
  • Duty of confidentiality;
  • Duty of full disclosure;
  • Duty to act fairly; and
  • Duty of good faith and fair dealing.

Understanding fiduciary duties and selecting the right individuals will help you feel content, secure and satisfied with your estate plan.

Have questions? Need more information?

I would love to discuss your estate plan with you. You can contact me by email at Gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com or give me a call at 515-371-6077. Don’t have an estate plan? The best place to start is the Estate Plan Questionnaire.

flower-pink-mothers-day

To all the moms out there (including my own!), happy Mother’s Day! We all have our own unique relationships and therefore unique lists with an endless number of things we can and should thank our moms for. But the one thing we all have in common is there are not enough words and never the perfect gifts that fully encompass how thankful we are for all they’ve given us. Bath salts, candles, and lotions are nice. A massage or pedicure sounds even better! These gifts are kind, but they pale in comparison to all the tangible and intangible things your mother has given you over the years.

mom tattoo

That’s why I propose this year you give your mom a gift that’s unconventional, yet incredibly valuable…an estate plan! Why is this one of the greatest gifts for a loved one?

  • An estate plan leads to peace of mind. Your mom can feel good knowing if the unexpected happens, then the legal “stuff” surrounding your life is accounted for.
  • Estate planning means that you (the testator) get to make the decisions about who you want to have what stuff and when.
  • Estate planning isn’t just about death. Documents like financial and health care powers of attorney play an important role if your mom were to be incapacitated by a debilitating accident or illness. Everyone wants the ability to choose the people they want to make important decisions regarding their money and health instead of a court-appointed guardian or conservator.
  • Estate planning means your mom can plan for her estate to benefit the causes and organizations she cares for through charitable bequests.
  • Estate planning saves your mother’s family (like you!) time and money in attorney’s fees and court costs in the probate process.
  • By encouraging your mom to execute an estate plan, you are recognizing that you want her wishes to be heard on important matters like disposition of final remains and a living will. (It makes up for all the times you didn’t follow her directions as a kid!)
  • Estate plans can also be seen as a representation of your everlasting love for your mother, because estate plans never expire! They need to be reviewed regularly and updated when goals or big life-changing events happen, but a valid estate plan will last as long as your mom wants it to. What other Mother’s Day gifts can you say that about?

How do you gift someone an estate plan you ask? Well, you certainly can’t buy one at a store, but this is your chance to get creative.

  • Gift the gift of information. Even sharing the benefits and educating her on the main components of an estate plan is an amazing present.
  • Connect her with an estate planning attorney. Sometimes the hardest part of estate planning is simply getting started. When you work with an estate planning attorney (in lieu of something with a high potential for negative unintended consequences like a DIY will off the internet), they help guide and consult you through the process on top of writing the actual documents.
  • Give a storage container. This is a gift you could actually put a bow on! There are many different ways you can choose to store your estate plan, so take stock of what your mother has in terms of secure storage. Is there a locked file cabinet readily available or does she need a water-proof, fire-proof place to keep her original estate plan? The storage container could be a sort of representative for the estate plan that is to come.
  • Help her gather her information to fill out the Estate Plan Questionnaire. An Estate Plan Questionnaire helps you and your attorney collect all the important details related to your estate in one place.
  • Gift your assistance. Let your mom know that when she’s ready to discuss her planning decisions that you’ll be there to listen, and if necessary, bring your siblings (if any) and other family members to the table so that everyone is on the same page.

Already got your mom a gift? That’s cool. I’m sure she would love it in addition to the estate plan!

Questions, concerns, or otherwise from you or your mother? Contact me at any time via email or phone (515-371-6077).

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).