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Right now health and safety are top of mind for most of us due to the COVID-19 global pandemic. Because of the potential medical implications of the virus, it’s incredibly important to consider who you trust to make important health care decisions on your behalf if you are unable to do so. I know it’s difficult to think about, but knowing you have your wishes clearly, legally articulated can provide at least some peace of mind.

A health care power of attorney is one of the documents I advise all Iowans invest in because it’s a document that can save your loved ones so much uncertainty and confusion in the future (if the document needs to be evoked). Just like you may have prepared for social distancing by purchasing the basic necessities, a health care PoA, in my opinion, is a legal necessity.

Health Care PoA: One of Six “Must Have” Estate Plan Legal Documents

An estate plan is a set of legal documents to prepare you (and your family and loved ones) for your death or disability. There are six basic estate plan legal documents that nearly everyone should have:

1. Estate plan questionnaire
2. Last will and testament
3. Health care power of attorney (option for living will)
4. Financial power of attorney
5. Disposition of personal property
6. Disposition of Final Remains and Instructions

There are numerous other important estate planning tools, such as trusts, but these six documents are a common part of most everyone’s complete estate plan. And, the health care power of attorney document is certainly an important part of your overall estate plan.

Serious Incapacitation

A health care PoA becomes critically important when you’re seriously incapacitated and unable to make health care decisions for yourself. This new state of incapacitation, preventing you from making your own health care decisions, might be the result of serious illness, injury, lack of mental capacity, or some combination of all of these.

alarm clock with red cross on it

How a Health Care PoA Works

A health care PoA is a legal document that allows you to select the person (your “agent”) that you want to make health care decisions on your behalf, if and when you become unable to make them for yourself.

Once your health care PoA goes into effect (typically most people elect to have this be the case only if an attending physician certifies you are unable to make medical decisions independently), your agent will then be able to make decisions for you based on the information you provided in your health care PoA. If there are no specifics in your health care PoA relating to a unique situation, your agent can and should make health care decisions for you based on your best interests. Obviously, the person you select as your health care agent should be someone in whom you have the utmost trust.

Equally important, your agent will be able to access your medical records, communicate with your health care providers, and so on.

Many Types of Health Care Decision

Keep in mind your health care PoA isn’t just about end-of-life decisions; it can cover many types of medical situations and decisions. For instance, you may choose to address organ donation, hospitalization, treatment in a nursing home, home health care, psychiatric treatment, and other situations in your health care PoA.

For people who feel strongly about not wanting to be kept alive with machines, specifically covered in a document that can be thought of as a part of your health care PoA known as a living will.

brightly colored pills

What Happens Without a Health Care PoA?

If you don’t have a health care PoA and you should become disabled to the degree where you are unable to make health care decisions for yourself, your doctor(s) will ask your family and loved ones what to do.

You might disagree with the decision your family makes. Or, your family members may not be able to agree on how to handle your medical care.

Ultimately, if your immediate family members cannot 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.

Going to court to plead for a guardianship and conservatorship is all very complicated, time-consuming, and expensive. This is especially true when compared with the convenience of simply putting a health care PoA in place should the need arise. A health care PoA gives you control over how decisions are made for you, and the agent you choose will carry out your wishes.

No “One-Size-Fits-All” HealthCare PoA

All Iowans are special and unique and have special and unique issues and concerns. It’s completely up to YOU as to what’s contained in your health care PoA. You name the agent(s). You decide what medical decisions will be covered and how. It’s all up to you.

Do you have a Health Care Power of Attorney Yet?

We never know when or if an accident or illness will befall us and if it will render us incapacitated. Of course, we all hope that’s never a reality, but it’s better to be prepared in case the unexpected becomes existence.

Do you have further questions about a health care PoA for you or your family members? You can email me anytime at gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com or call me on my cell at 515-371-6077. I offer a free consultation to all, as well as a no-obligation, Estate Plan Questionnaire.

Pop the popcorn, uncork the champagne, and put on your best red-carpet duds to tune into the 92nd Academy Awards tonight! In between award envelopes and amazing performances, consider how your 2020 Oscar ballot has some surprising connections with estate planning. It may sound like a stretch, but hear me out while you watch the pre-show coverage.

Anything Could Happen

If you’re a film buff who has managed to watch all nine of the Best Picture category nominees (first off, I’m jealous), you may have a strong opinion about which one deserves to win. However, just like life, anything could happen! You may bet that 1917 most certainly will be victorious, but in the end, You know one of the films will win, just like you know someday you’re going to pass away. However, you cannot know which one of the films will win ahead of time, just like you cannot know how and when your final scene will be.

Expecting the unexpected is what estate planning boils down to. With something fun and entertaining like the Academy Awards, surprises can make for ready Oscar party fodder. But, when it comes to your estate—all of your assets you worked hard to acquire—surprises can make for frustration and confusionin fighting for your family, extended probate time and fees, and assets being distributed in a way that you wouldn’t have chosen.

Estate planning allows you to make certain your loved ones and the charities you care most about “win,” regardless of when you pass away.

It’s All in the Family

Some of the films nominated this year have familial relationships as a central plot device in the scripts. For instance, the Greta Gerwig take on the Louisa May Alcott classic, Little Women, explores the relationships between four sisters, each unique in their talents and interests, from childhood through young adulthood.

The scenes of Jo, Amy, Meg, and Beth remind us that people are considered minor children until they turn 18, and parents should have guardianship defined through their estate plans. That way, if something were to happen to the minor’s legal guardian(s), they could be immediately placed under the care of another trusted adult. Unless guardianship has been established, the Iowa Courts must choose guardians for the minor child if the legal guardian died or was incapacitated. Unfortunately, with no clear choice as to what the former caregivers would have preferred, the Court must basically make its own and best determination as to who the parent(s) would have preferred and what would be in the best interest of the children. The Court may or may not, choose who the parent(s) would have actually named.

Leave a Lasting Legacy

Some of the greatest films of all time have won the “Best Picture” category and left a cinematic legacy that has lasted well beyond their premiere date. These movies and the stories they tell live on in infamy, as generation after generation experiences their contribution to the entertainment industry. Indeed, the plot of the nominee Ford v Ferrari explores what kind of lasting reputation a team can build in their attempt at besting the dominator of the day.

Perhaps one or more of the 2020 Best Picture nominees will join this upper echelon of cinema (and maybe not), but estate planning also allows you to also make a mark on your world—a chance to leave a lasting legacy. A legacy can be interpreted differently by different people. A legacy to you could mean leaving a sizable charitable bequest to your church or alma mater. It could also mean bequeathing your art collection to your favorite museum. It could mean establishing college funds for all of your children and grandchildren to represent your belief in continuous learning. Whatever you envision your legacy to be, an estate plan will allow you to shape it…think of it as your own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame!

hollywood walk of fame star

Retain Your Control

Power is a common theme in some of the films nominated this year. Whether it’s the Joker with its implicit theme on how the power of kindness can change the cycle of bad events for someone or De Niro in The Irishman detailing the inner politics and power grabs of the mob, there is something to be said for retaining control over your assets. I like to tell my clients that estate planning really just allows you to direct who inherits what, when, and how. For most folks, they want to choose where their hard-earned property goes, not the government via Iowa’s intestacy laws.

I’d love to hear your take on films nominated this year, but I’d also like to discuss your estate plan! Don’t hesitate to contact me via email or by phone (515-371-6077). You can also get started on the creation of an estate plan by filling out my free, no-obligation Estate Plan Questionnaire.

love in lights

Valentine’s Day is coming up quick and while I think the commercialized messages of “this is love” can get a little cheesy, I’m a full supporter of a day that celebrates love. Be it love for your spouse, a celebration of the fact that you are awesome, or showing even more adoration for your furry best friend, the world could always use a little more love. In this important addition to the #PlanningForLove series, let’s talk about ways you can show love to your children through your estate plan.

I’ve discussed the importance of guardianship quite a bit on this blog. It’s important that anyone with minor children establish guardianship so that if something were to happen to you as a legal guardian that your minor children (under age 18) would be immediately placed in the care of someone you know, trust, and most importantly, choose. Just as establishing guardianship is a powerful gift that your children will hopefully never have to actually know about or experience, a testamentary trust can also continue to provide and support your children if something were to happen to you.

There is an almost endless number of different kind of trusts and you can put just about any asset in a trust. Testamentary trusts are one of the most common kinds of trusts I establish for my clients. You may recognize the first word of the type of trust from “last will and testament.” Indeed, a testamentary trust is a trust written into your will and provides for the distribution of a portion or all of your estate.

Sounds simple enough, but you’re thinking, “What does this have to do with my kids?”

Different from an inter vivos trust, which is established during the settlor‘s lifetime, the testamentary trust kicks in at the completion of the probate process after the death of the person who has created it for the benefit of their beneficiaries.

Typically testamentary trusts are created for minor children or others (such as a relative with some kinds of disabilities) who may inherit a large amount of money if you (the testator) were to pass away. The general thinking is that you may not want a minor child, or even a young adult, to have uninhibited access to their inheritance until a certain age (and presumed level of maturity) is reached. (I can imagine what I would have done with an inheritance at, say, age 18 and it surely wouldn’t have been the smartest use of money!) The testamentary trust then terminates at whatever age you choose, at which point your beneficiaries receive their inheritances outright and can use the funds in any way they choose.

child with red heart

The testator can choose the distribution to be distributed in percentages such as 25% at age 18, 25% at age 22, and the remaining 50% at age 25. Or, the trust funds may be distributed in full at a single age. (All at age 25 is the default if the testator doesn’t choose otherwise.) Distributions can also be made immediately upon your passing if all beneficiaries are legal adults (age 18 or older). The testamentary trust could also be set-up for disbursements around milestones, such as a percentage or full disbursement when the beneficiary graduates from an accredited two- or four-year college institution.

Testamentary Trustee

With a testamentary trust, you also need to designate a trustee. The trustee is responsible for managing the trust property according to the rules outlined in the trust document and must do so in the best interests of the beneficiary (for example, a minor child). Generally, I advise the appointed guardian also be the trustee of a child’s testamentary trust.

Testamentary Trust Options

In my Estate Plan Questionnaire, I offer clients three main options for testamentary trust organization. (Note that there can be more than one testamentary trust created in one will.)

  • Option 1: Separate trust fund for each beneficiary. Each beneficiary’s inheritance to be held by the trustee in a separate fund. Whatever is left in each beneficiary’s trust fund, if anything, will be distributed to that beneficiary when they attain the age(s) indicated in the following section. This option ensures that all of your beneficiaries are treated equally, regardless of needs.
  • Option 2: Single trust fund for multiple beneficiaries. The entire inheritance will be held by the trustee in a single trust fund for the benefit of multiple beneficiaries (such as multiple children). The trustee may make unequal distributions during the term of the trust if a beneficiary needs additional assistance. Whatever is left in the trust, if anything, will be distributed equally when your youngest beneficiary attains the age(s) indicated in the following section. This option will allow the trustee to accommodate a particular beneficiary’s needs by distributing more of the inheritance to that beneficiary during the term of the trust. (Recommended with younger beneficiaries.)
  • Option 3: No delayed distribution. Beneficiary’s inheritance may be made directly to the beneficiary or a court-appointed conservator if the beneficiary is a minor/incapacitated. Funds will be distributed directly to the beneficiary at the age of 18.

Mom and daughter hugging

The important takeaway from all of this is that a testamentary trust can be entirely personalized to fit your wishes. For example, most folks want the testamentary trust written in such a way that their beneficiaries may have access to funds to pay for higher education costs like tuition, room and board, books, and fees, on top of the necessary funds needed for an adequate standard of care, protection, support, and maintenance of the beneficiary.

Estate Plan Revisions & Updates

If you already have an estate plan review it. Estate plans never expire, but major life events or a change in estate planning goals can necessitate changes. For example, if your family welcomed a new baby or adopted a child then it’s definitely time to update your estate plan to include them! Maybe something changes in the future with one of your beneficiaries and you want to change distribution percentages or ages? Simply contact your estate planning attorney and let them know your wishes.

A Lasting Love

hearts on a string

The love for your children knows no bounds and without a doubt, you want to make certain you can still provide for them if something unexpected were to happen to you. There’s no day like today (or Valentine’s Day!) to get your ducks in a row just in case. The best place to begin is with my Estate Plan Questionnaire or by contacting me.

strand fo valentine

People can say “I love you” in many different words and through many different actions. This Valentine’s Day I want every Iowan to consider creating an out of the ordinary gift…an estate plan! An estate plan is not just an important legal document that saves your friends and family time, money, and potential heartbreak. A quality estate plan is also a way of expressing care, commitment, and, yes, even love…be it adoration for your significant other, for your family, or even just out of respect for your life and legacy.

I could go on and on about the importance of having health care and financial power of attorney documents in place well before you hopefully never need it. I would be happy to share more than you’d ever want to know about the nomination of a guardian for minor children. Don’t get me started on the importance of detailing your wishes in the disposition of final remains document. But, I thought we could have a little fun with these sharable valentines (use the tag #PlanningForLove!) to get you inspired to take that first estate planning step and fill out my free Estate Plan Questionnaire.

Love is When

Help your favorite people avoid any reason for in-fighting or litigation. Have a quality estate plan made by a professional and then discuss your decisions with those close to you.

Love is when quote

Great Love

For any great love, you’ll want to continue providing and supporting that individual even after your passing. Talk to your estate planner about what tools and strategies, like a living revocable trust, would be best for your situation.

Great Love Quote

Saved Up Wishes

There’s no better way or place to detail your wishes for what you want to be done with your hard-earned assets than in an estate plan. For instance, if you want to give a portion of your estate to the charities near and dear to your heart, you can do so in your will.

love letter illustration

Look in the Same Direction

If you’re married you and your spouse both need your own individual estate plan! Many married couples do have the same estate planning goals and opt to have the same estate planning attorney draft both of their plans. Other times couples opt for separate attorneys. (Give this piece a read for more information.)

Coral and Teal Heart Pattern Valentine's Day Card

Of course, I would love to receive a Valentine from you, but I would also like to talk with you about your estate planning needs and how, oddly enough, this legal document makes the perfect Valentine’s Day gift to yourself or someone you love. Contact me at any time via email or phone (515-371-6077).

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.

As Valentine’s Day approaches you’ll see all kinds of gift guides telling you if you get these gifts, your significant other will love you that much more. I’m here to present a different kind of gift guide: one with important gifts that you cannot buy from a store. These gifts are all a part of estate planning in one way or another. At this point, you’re thinking what does some legal/financial thing like estate planning have to do with a holiday that celebrates love? On the outset, not much. But, dive into the reasons behind proper estate planning and most often I find love is at the foundation for most folks.

man with bouquet of roses

Read on for a gift guide you definitely won’t find in a magazine!

For your Spouse: Review your Beneficiary Designations

Your estate plan is essential for the majority of your assets, but it doesn’t cover some important accounts that are passed along via beneficiary designations. Such accounts can include savings and checking accounts, life insurance, annuities, 401(k)s, pensions, and IRA accounts. Whoever is listed as the beneficiary on these accounts overrides what’s written in a will (if the two are different). That means keeping these beneficiary designations are super important. Let’s say you listed your first spouse as a beneficiary on your life insurance, ended up getting divorced, got remarried to a great person you have many happy years together and then you pass away. Unfortunately, you never changed the beneficiary designation and the ex-spouse inherits the money. More than likely you would have wanted the account assets to go to your current spouse. (More valuable than some heart-shaped Valentine’s jewelry, right?!)

It’s good practice to review all of your beneficiary designations if there have been any life events that would necessitate a change, addition, or update, such as a birth, death, or change of capacity in a beneficiary.

For the Entire Clan: Talk About your Estate Plan Decisions

It’s important to discuss your estate planning decisions with your family members both before and after the plan is executed. In drafting the estate plan you’ll need to indicate to your qualified estate planning attorney whom you’re entrusting the important roles of executor, attorney-in-fact, guardian, and other designated representatives to. Before naming someone in a legal document you should discuss the role with them first to be sure they are willing, able, and informed to the duties of the role.

strand of hearts

After the estate plan is executed you’ll want to discuss your estate planning decisions with loved ones, family members, and beneficiaries, especially when your choices may take them by surprise. How can a discussion be a gift, per se? Explaining your wishes is a way of expressing your love by heading off any confusion your family and friends may feel upon needing to execute your plan.

This is yet another reason to have an attorney draft your plan—your estate planner can help you communicate your wishes to your loved ones.

For your Kiddos: Nomination of Guardian

This is the kind of “gift” your child(ren) will hopefully never need to experience. One of the most critically important features of an estate plan is establishing guardianship for any minors (i.e., children under the age of 18) in your care. Why? In the tragic and terrible chance that something was to happen to you resulting in immense incapacitation or death, who do you want to care for your children? Nominating a guardian in your will allows you to select the people you know will love, care, and lookout for the best interests of your child.

Unless guardianship has been established, an Iowa Court must choose guardians. Unfortunately, with no clear choice as to what the former caregivers would have preferred, the Court must basically make its own and best determination as to who the parents would have preferred and what would be in the best interest of the children. The Court may or may not, choose who the former caregivers would have named.

For your Favorite Charity: Charitable Bequest

Valentine’s Day doesn’t just have to be mean about personal relationships! It can also be a day for sharing the “love” for charities you care deeply for. In making or updating your estate plan think about what charities are near and dear to your heart? Which organizations and how much would you want to leave for them? You can include your church, alma mater, local cause, or international organization in your estate plan as beneficiaries. It doesn’t cost anything extra, other than assets from your estate. Want a clearer picture of how a charitable bequest could help your favorite charity? Talk to the nonprofit’s leaders or fundraising staffers. I’ll bet they’ll tell you the result of your charitable bequest, no matter how big or small, can make an important impact.

Love can take on many forms and express itself through many different types of gifts and actions that show you care. Choose this Valentine’s Day to express your affection (be it for a significant other, your children, or a charity) with a “gift” that shows a clear investment in the relationship. And, speaking of amore, I would love to discuss any aspect of this gift guide with you! Contact me at any time.

footballs on wall

Turn on ESPN, put on your jersey, and stock with fridge with a cold beverage…the College Football Playoff National Championship is this Monday, January 13, 2020. (The game kicks off at 8 p.m.) While reading up on the stats and predictions for a tiger showdown between the LSU Tigers and Clemson Tigers in New Orleans’ Mercedes-Benz Superdome, I couldn’t help but make a connection with estate planning. Goalposts to estate planning goals may seem like a stretch, but hear me out.

 

Football is a complex game—the field is full of moving parts and competing strategies; it’s a game of inches where just a few missteps or right moves can make a huge difference. Estate planning works the same way. Here are just five of the surprising similarities between estate planning and the game of football:

1. Your Clock Will Indeed Run Out

Just like every football season eventually comes to an end, your (hopefully long and healthy) season will also come to a close. When it does, you need a special kind of playbook for the rest of your team…AKA an estate plan. In this analogy, an experienced lawyer is a great coach who is going to help you put plans in place for when the game changes unexpectedly or the stadium lights turn off for the last time. And, just like so much can change over the course of a season, a lot will happen over the course of your lifetime. That’s where annual reviews and revisions after significant events fit in.

While it is often difficult for people to ponder their unavoidable exit off their own fictitious field, preparation for what happens after your season is over can be one of the most comforting aspects of financial and legal planning.

2. The Main Players

Let’s take this analogy a bit further and put some estate planning terms into football speak.

Estate – An estate is a whole playbook, containing the following documents: your will; health care power of attorney; financial power of attorney; disposition of personal property; and final disposition of remains. (Click on the link preview below to delve deeper.)

Will – A will deals primarily with the distribution of assets and care for minor children. You need to make certain the will is well-drafted, solid, and can stand up in court. Keep in mind though, important assets such as life insurance policy payouts, retirement assets, and investment accounts may well contain beneficiary designations that trump your will.

Trust – You have lots of different options with this player. A trust can dictate how your assets will be dispersed, the timeline and manner in which they are dispersed, and who’s overseeing the process.

3. You Must Make Mid-Season Starting Lineup Adjustments

Just as a coach may switch up who’s starting partway through the season, you may need to make adjustments to your estate plan as things inevitably change over the course of your life. Big events like marriage, birth of a child/grandchild, moving to a different state, a large change in financial status, divorce, and other significant changes are a good reason to review your “playbook.”

4. No ‘I’ in Team

Your loved ones and close friends are all a part of your team; part of being a strong team player is including them on the plays you’re making. Discuss important aspects of your estate plan with the people it involves to avoid any confusion or conflict when it comes times for them to carry out your wishes. For instance, if you have minor children (under age 18) you’re going to want to establish legal guardianship if the worst happens and you’re no longer around to care for them. You’ll want to discuss with your chosen guardians ahead of time to make sure they’re willing and available to carry out the responsibility.

5. Final Score

football on field

 

There are probably at least a few more good football analogies I could tie into the conversation of why you need an estate plan, but the most important takeaway is that you never know when the game is going to change. So, you need to have your “playbook” written out ASAP. The best place to start is with my free, no-obligation Estate Plan Questionnaire. You can also shoot me an email or give me a call at 515-371-6077 to discuss your situation (or football).

I KEEP six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.– Rudyard Kipling

I’ll use all six “serving men”—what, why, when, how, where, and who, albeit sometimes in slightly different order—to explain three broad topics: (1) estate planning; (2) trusts; and (3) business succession planning. If you’re unsure of any of the three topics listed, this is the blog post for you.

man taking notes in notebook

WHAT is an Estate Plan, Anyway?

What do we talk about when we talk about estate planning? There are six documents that should be part of everyone’s estate plan. Additionally, you should also keep these six documents updated and current. It’s also important you take note of assets with beneficiary designations (such as those on IRAs and bank accounts).

WHO Needs an Estate Plan? Everyone!

Everyone needs an estate plan. If you’re young, healthy, unmarried, have no children, and have no significant or unusual assets, perhaps you could talk me into the idea that you don’t entirely need an estate plan. Even in such exceedingly rare cases, I strongly recommend making sure your beneficiary designations are completed and up-to-date.

For example, beneficiary designations can be found on your checking and savings accounts and on your retirement benefit plan. But, if you’re married, and/or have kids, and/or have significant or unusual assets, and/or own part or all of a business, you most definitely need an estate plan.

WHY Do You Need an Estate Plan?

Estate planning is not exactly material for scintillating conversation. In fact, I’d bet most of us like to avoid this topic because it can be confusing, and requires lots of decision-making. And, yes, it forces one to think about the mortality of loved ones and the self. Estate planning, after all, is a roadmap about what you want to happen after you move on from this life. While it may not be a fun topic, it is indeed a necessary one. If you die without an estate plan, there are several negative consequences.

Without an estate plan, you cannot choose who receives your estate assets.

If you die without a will, you leave the decision of who will receive your property, in what amount, and when up to the Iowa legislature and/or Iowa courts. With this situation, there is always the very real possibility that the distribution of your estate will be greatly different than if you had chosen it through an estate plan.

Without an estate plan, you cannot choose a guardian for your minor children.

If you die without an estate plan, Iowa courts will choose guardians for your children. One of the most important aspects of a will is that it allows you to designate who will be the guardian for your children. This can ensure that your children are cared for by the person that you want, not who the court chooses for you.

Without an estate plan, Iowa courts will choose your estate’s executor.

If you die without an estate plan, the probate court is forced to name an executor. The executor of your estate handles tasks like paying your creditors and distributing the rest of your assets to your heirs. If the probate court has to pick who will be your estate’s executor, there is always a chance that you would not have approved of that person if you had been alive. If you have an estate plan, your will names a trusted executor who will carry out all of your final wishes, pay your bills, and distribute your assets as you intended.

Without an estate plan, you can’t help your favorite nonprofits.

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. If you have an estate plan, you can include gifts to your favorite nonprofits and see that they are helped for many years to come.

HOW Do You Structure Your Estate Plan?

light bulb on post-it note

Again, there are six basic documents that should be part of everyone’s estate plan:

  1. Estate Planning Questionnaire
  2. Last will and testament
  3. Power of attorney for health care
  4. Power of attorney for finance
  5. Disposition of personal property
  6. Disposition of final remains

We’ll go through each document briefly, so you have a sense of what each entails.

Estate Planning Questionnaire

Estate planning involves facing heavy questions, and depending on the number of assets and beneficiaries you have, may take quite a bit of time and thought. I recommend clients (and even those who aren’t my clients) complete an Estate Plan Questionnaire. An Estate Plan Questionnaire is a simple way to get all of your information in one place and makes it easier for your attorney to build your estate plan.

As with any project, it helps “to begin with the end in mind.” A questionnaire can help get you there.

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Last Will and Testament

Now let’s discuss your last will and testament. In sum, you’ll be answering three major questions:

Q1. Who do you want to have your stuff?

This includes both tangible and intangible things. An example of a tangible item would be your coin collection. An example of an intangible asset would be stocks.

Q2. Who do you want to be in charge of carrying out your wishes as expressed in the will?

The “executor” is the person who will be responsible for making sure the will is carried out as written.

Q.3. If you have kids under age 18: who do you want to take care of your minor children?

You’ll want to designate a legal guardian(s) who will take care of your minor children until they are adults.

Power of Attorney for Health Care

A power of attorney (POA) for health care designates someone to handle your healthcare decisions for you if you become unable to make those decisions for yourself. A healthcare POA can govern any kind of decision that is related to your health that you want to address. A healthcare POA may include decisions related to organ donation, hospitalization, treatment in a nursing home, home health care, psychiatric treatment, and more.

For example, if you don’t want to be kept alive with machines, you can make this clear in your POA for healthcare. But, keep in mind your POA for health care isn’t just about end-of-life decisions, again, it can cover any medical situation.

Power of Attorney for Finance

The power of attorney for financial matters is similar to the health care document just discussed, only your designated agent has the power to make decisions and act on your behalf when it comes to your finances. This gives them 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.

It might be obvious by now, but I’ll state it just in case: choosing an agent for a power of attorney requires that you think long and hard about who would be best suited for the job and who can be trusted.

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Disposition of Personal Property

Now, let’s get to the disposition of the personal property. This is where you get specific about items you want particular people to have. If you’re leaving everything to one or two people, then you may not need to fill this out. But, if you know you want your niece Beth to have a specific piece of jewelry, and your cousin Karl to have that bookshelf he loved, then you’d say so in this document.

Disposition of Final Remains

The disposition of final remains document is where you get to tell your loved ones exactly how you want your body to be treated after you pass away. It can be as general as simply saying “I want to be cremated and scattered in my garden,” or it can be specific and include details of plots you’ve already purchased or arrangements you’ve already made.

Beneficiary Designations

Along with the six basic estate planning documents, don’t forget about your assets with beneficiary designations.

Common accounts with beneficiary designations include savings and checking accounts, life insurance, annuities, 401(k)s, pensions, and IRAs are all transferred via beneficiary designations. These beneficiary designations actually trump your will!

Regarding assets with beneficiary designations, you must make sure that designations are correctly filled out and supplied to the appropriate institution. Remember to keep these beneficiary designations updated and current.

WHEN Do You Update Your Estate Plan?

Let’s say you’ve gone to an estate planning lawyer, and these six basic estate planning documents have been drafted and signed. What else? You need to keep these documents updated and current. If you undergo a major life event, you may well want to revisit with your estate planning lawyer, to see if this life event requires changing your estate planning documents.

What do I mean by a major life event? Some common events would include:

  • Selling or buying land
  • Birth or adoption of a child or grandchild
  • Marriage or divorce
  • Illness or disability of your spouse
  • Purchasing a home or other large asset
  • Moving to another state
  • Large increases or decreases in the value of assets, such as investments
  • If you or your spouse receives a large inheritance or gift
  • If any family member, or another heir, dies, becomes ill, or is incapacitated

This is just a short list of life events that should cause you to reconsider your estate plan. There are many others; if you think you might have undergone a major life event, check with your estate planning lawyer.

WHERE Do You Keep Your Estate Plan?

You should store your estate planning documents in a safe place, such as a fireproof safe at home, or a safety-deposit box. Another option in our digital era is storage on the “cloud.” Just make sure the important agents under your estate plan—say, for example, the executor of your will, or power of attorney representative—can access the documents if and when the need arises. For most folks, that’s enough: the six documents, keeping the documents current and remembering about those assets with beneficiary designations.

Don’t Forget About Benefiting Charities!

Perhaps most importantly, through proper estate planning, you can help your favorite charities in ways large and small. One common way grantors elect to support the causes and organizations they care about is by naming them as a beneficiary of a certain amount or percentage of the estate’s assets.

Time for a Trust?

Wait a second…what do you mean by “for most folks, that’s enough?” Indeed, for most Iowans what I’ve outlined here is enough. There may be folks who have a high net worth, or who have complex assets (for example, more than one piece of real estate), or own part or all of a robust business, or otherwise have unusual situations. In such cases, a trust may be helpful. That’s considered more “advanced” estate planning and will mean additional conversations and collaboration on what estate planning tools work best for the situation.

See? That wasn’t so bad!

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

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

Everyone has unique needs and thus every estate plan needs to be personalized. Online templates for estate plans won’t cover the nuances of your life, wishes, and assets. The best place to start on your personalized estate plan is with my Estate Planning Questionnaire.

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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.

 

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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.

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.