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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!

 

table with book and tea

Often when I’m reading fiction I’ll find estate planning-related issues that cause conflicts, both big and small, for the characters. And, while the stories may be fictitious, the lessons they give us serve as valuable reminders of the importance of quality estate planning.

One such tale I recently revisited is the 1845 gothic novel, Wuthering Heights, in which author Emily Brontë swiftly weaves in ample estate planning issues with English family drama worthy of the Kardashians.

While many estate planning laws and practices have evolved and changed since the mid-1800s, many also have not. Indeed, the outcome of failing to create a valid, quality estate plan certainly has not.

All in the Family

Wuthering Heights twists and turns with love, revenge, birth, and death spanning some thirty-something years from the late 1700s to 1803. Among many other plot devices, conflict rests on the real property (named Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange) that a man named Heathcliff comes to in possession of through a number of different property rights and inheritance laws. In this way English common law has its own sort of starring role in the book, a character for which Bronte shows an impressive grasp of.

Of course, I don’t want to spoil the book because it’s a classic and you should enjoy the experience of exploring it yourself. So, without any spoilers there’s a lot of family conflict and one of the characters (Heathcliff) taking vengeful advantage of a number of unfair laws (especially those discriminating against women) of the time to gain property and power over his siblings. What were these unjust laws you ask? For one, married women couldn’t legally own property in England during this period. Additionally, inheritances generally passed to sons only. (If a father did not have sons and did not specifically name a daughter as a beneficiary, the father’s closest male relative would usually become the heir to the father’s estate.)

Yet, the irony of Heathcliff’s unyielding (and suspect) property acquisition is that in the end, he failed to make an estate plan and therefore failed to seize his opportunity to decide to whom and when he wants his things to pass. Apparently, he had thought about it, but likely did what so many of us do and made excuses and put it off until it was tragically too late. (Again, no spoilers, but Heathcliff’s ending is no fairytale.)

First Wuthering Heights Lesson: Stop the Procrastination

This brings us to our first important Wuthering Heights estate planning lesson: make an estate plan. Seriously, every adult needs an estate plan, as you never know when unexpected death or incapacitation may occur. For instance, you’ll want to have a health care power of attorney in place before a medical emergency occurs. And if/when it does, you’ll want your assets to go to the beneficiaries of your choosing. Having a valid estate plan in place also saves your loved ones ample time, energy, and money in court costs and lawyers’ fees.

What Happened to the Estate

Because Heathcliff lived in 19th century England, without a valid will in place at the time of his death and without a clear heir at law or living spouse, Heathcliff’s property was “escheat,” a common law doctrine that made sure property was not in limbo without a recognized owner. This meant the property passed to the “Crown” (basically whomever the feudal lord of the area was, or in modern day it would be as if the property was held by the state) and then eventually passed to Heathcliff’s next generation of family members. Now, Heathcliff, given his history with his family, may not have chosen for his unqualified nephew (and niece) to inherit his property. Heathcliff may have wanted to make charitable bequests of his property to a charitable organization he supported. But, the fact of the matter is he didn’t have a will, let alone an estate plan, so then inheritance laws and the judicial system made these personal decisions for him.

As an estate planning attorney, I can assure you this is not something that only happens in books. Without a valid will in place your estate will go through a process called intestate succession where the Iowa probate process and the courts will decide how your hard-earned property is to be distributed. This can take a long time, cost a great deal in fees and court costs, and your property may end up transferred to beneficiaries you never would have selected. Plus, without an estate plan, you cannot give upon your death to charity.

Second Wuthering Heights Lesson: Intestate Succession

Dying in Iowa without an estate plan is different than dying in 1800s England, but what does the intestate succession process actually look like?

It depends on the family situation. If married, the estate will pass to the surviving spouse. If there’s a surviving spouse and living children (whom are not children of the surviving spouse, but children of the deceased), then the estate will be split with half to the spouse and half divided amongst the living children (often referred to as “issue” in legal speak). If there is no spouse and no children, then the division process works its way down a list of surviving family members from parents, then to grandparents, then great-grandparents…and if no one from that list is alive than the estate would pass to the deceased spouse’s issue (such as stepchildren). Finally, if there are no family members living to inherit the estate, the intestate property will escheat (remember when we talked about that before) to the state of Iowa.

Assets that are inherited via beneficiary designations (such as 401ks, IRAs, annuities, checking accounts, and pensions) only become the property of the probate estate and pass through the intestate succession process if no beneficiary is named.

Note well that these highlighted provisions are just the basics. Other statutes come into play with the intestate process pertaining to various personal and financial situations.

Just as enlisting an attorney to help you craft a quality, individualized estate plan, it’s important that an attorney is brought on by the surviving family of the person who died intestate in working out how property will be divided.

brown books on shelf

Write Your Plan Before “The End”

The bottom line is: don’t be Heathcliff. Every adult (even young adults, and especially adults with minor children) needs to make an estate plan. Not only will this help your family avoid the worst-case scenario of litigation, it will also allow you the benefit of determining who you want inheriting your estate and when. You shouldn’t rely on the rules of intestate succession for dispersal of all the assets you acquired over the course of a life.

Lucky for you, it’s even easier to make an estate plan than it was back in the time of Wuthering Heights. Get started with my Estate Plan Questionnaire or contact me with questions about your individual situation.

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!

doctor and patient

The other day I had an appointment at the University of Iowa Hospital. Don’t worry, it was nothing serious. Beyond the facility, technology, and the clearly talented health care providers, what impressed me most was the nurse asked if I had a health care power of attorney and/or living will and if I had them on file there. Of course, I got quite excited that the hospital is putting this important part of estate planning front and center as a part of the checkup where they take your vitals and such.

In case you don’t have a helpful nurse to prompt you to take this important step, allow me to issue the reminder.

Once your estate plan is executed you should store it properly, as well as give a copy of certain documents to your doctor(s). Your doctor doesn’t need your entire estate plan on record, but they should have a copy of your health care power of attorney and health/medical-related documents, such as a living will. You should request these documents be placed in your medical records.

What Do YOU Want?

A major benefit of this simple action is that if anything unexpected happens, your doctors and their teams will have your detailed wishes readily available. Giving a copy to your health care provider(s) is especially important in the case where you have been incapacitated (such as in a coma or under anesthesia) and want a specific person (like a spouse, adult child, or sibling) to be able to important decisions on your behalf. You want there to be no question as to whom you trust to make those decisions. You also want there to be no questions when it comes to personal choices regarding things like blood transfusions and being kept alive on machines.

Access to Medical Records

When the health care power of attorney goes into effect, your designated representative will also have access to your medical records (which would otherwise be undisclosed due to HIPAA rules). If your doctor has your power of attorney on file, there will be significantly less red tape to your representative accessing essential information.

Remember Revisions

If you make revisions to your estate plan documents, such as who your designated health care representative is or specifics included in your living will make sure you give the updated version to your doctor’s office. You don’t want them operating off of an old version if an emergency occurs.

Questions about your estate plan? Don’t hesitate to contact me. Want to get started? A great place to start is with this free, no-obligation estate plan questionnaire.

leaf on top of book

Bust out those library cards or fire up the e-reader, we have your latest and greatest GoFisch Book Club read for November! We hope you enjoyed the October pick, but now we’re shifting gears to a fictional tale with some salient real-world estate planning tie-ins…plus it’s a National Book Award Finalist, so you know it’s good! Waiting for Eden, by Elliot Ackerman, features a wife who is perpetually present at the bedside of Eden, her husband, when he comes to after being in a coma for years. Eden was badly injured while serving in the marines in the Middle East. When he becomes conscious after his coma, the bulk of his body is marked with the aftermath of burns, and he’s unable to talk, hear, or see. He’s never met his daughter and  Mary, the wife, has to grapple with the decision to extend Eden’s semblance of a life further or turn off the life support that keeps him immobilized. As the story unfolds, truth about the marriage come to life and we’re forced to face the question of what makes a life a life? What makes it worth living?

The primary themes are love, marriage, and tough health care choices when someone’s faculties are reduced to next to nothing can be heavy. But, they’re also super important consider. Ackerman created military fiction without it being a straight “military” storyline. (But, if you do like military-related reads, you get a dose of it from the perspective of a friend of the main couple who died in the same war accident Eden was injured in.)

waiting for eden

The life/death situation presented in Waiting for Eden is rare, and hopefully you and no one you know ever has deal anything remotely similar. But, if you are in the position of making difficult health care decisions for a loved one, it’s better to know exactly what their choice and intent would have been had they not incapacitated. This is where the health care power of attorney comes in.

About Health Care Power of Attorney

A health care power of attorney (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 or 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 a your health care PoA 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.

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.

GoFisch Book Club Flyer

Living Will

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.

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.

If Eden would have had such a document executed before he went to war with Mary named as his representative, the situation still would have been tragic, but the decision less disconcerting. But, the book probably would have been less of a captivating tale of friendship, love, and what it means to be human. If you can, however, save your loved ones confusion and uncertainty, plan ahead for the unexpected with a quality, clear health care power of attorney.

What are you thoughts on Waiting for Eden? Share your thoughts with other readers in the comments below or with GFLF on FacebookInstagram, or Twitter!

goodbye blue

It’s the saddest day of the year. You all know what I am talking about: the last day of National Estate Planning Awareness Week.

Here in Iowa, the weather this weekend was bright and shiny in that perfect fall day kind of way. Almost as if the universe itself was celebrating NEPAW 2018.

All good things come to an end, we sure had fun, didn’t we? We took a deep dive into the history of estate planning itself. Estate planning, in some form or another, has been an important aspect of societies in the world for hundreds and hundreds of years. In almost every society folks wanted to pass along their assets to the people they care about and want to provide for.

We were reminded of the importance of powers of attorney. In particular, everyone should have a power of attorney for health care, a legal instrument that allows you to select the person that you want to make health care decisions for you, if and when you become unable to make such decisions for yourself.

We delved into a hypothetical situation that is fairly improbable (but it can and does happen) regarding a death of a buyer or seller during sales of real estate.

 

The ultimate estate planning checklist makes it easy to visualize your completion rate of the important documents and estate plan-related tasks. It’s an easy-to-read, handy dandy cheat sheet of items to accomplish to get you from zero to hero in estate planning world.

While we’ll have to wait a whole year until the next National Estate Planning Awareness Week, let’s always choose to be aware of the importance of estate planning regardless of the day. With a quality estate plan crafted by an experienced lawyer, every single day of our lives can be like a day of National Estate Planning Awareness Week!

Here are three things you can do to keep the spirit of National Estate Planning Awareness Week alive regardless of the date on the calendar:

  1. If you don’t yet have an estate plan, get one. NOW. Filling out my Estate Plan Questionnaire is a great and easy way to start the process.
  2. Talk to your family, friends, colleagues, and others, about your own estate planning experiences. If it was easier and less expensive than you thought it might be, share that info. If having six basic documents, brought you great piece of mind, tell them so.
  3. Subscribe to my free e-newsletter, GoFisch, delivered to your inbox every month. It’s chock full of helpful information and may be the least boring legal newsletter ever.

I’d love to talk with you (even if you’re not as disappointed to see National Estate Planning Awareness Week pass as I am). Contact me by phone or email at any time to discuss your estate planning situation and goals.

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.

Checklist with coffee and croissant

It’s National Estate Planning Awareness Week! In an effort to break down the barriers, myths, and excuses surrounding estate planning, I’ve created this handy dandy ultimate estate planning checklist. It runs down just about everything you need in terms of a comprehensive, quality estate plan including the six major documents, reviewing beneficiary designations, considering if a trust is applicable to you, and discussing your estate plan with your loved ones.

Estate Planning Checklist GFLF

 

I would love to help you check these items off your list. If you want to get started, download my Estate Plan Questionnaire. Or, you can contact me to discuss your individual situation and what estate planning provisions make the most sense for you!

red chairs in conference room

Undoubtedly knowledge is power when it comes to understanding how different laws directly affect you. Indeed, living in a modern society mean that an interplay of laws govern pretty much every aspect of our lives in one way or another—even when it comes to death. That’s why I’m dedicated to breaking down terms (like in my “legal word of the day” series) and explaining processes (like how to form a 501(c)(3) in Iowa) related to GFLF’s core services. Because even if you’re not an attorney, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t/can’t learn about the interplay of different laws  Similarly, I think it’s important to get the word out about events in the community that can help grow knowledge on important topics like estate planning.

The Iowa State Bar Association (ISBA) announced they’re producing a seminar series called the “People’s Law School.” The first public information event will focus on three super important estate planning elements:

While the seminar is being billed as one for “older Iowan issues,” I have to remind that everyone needs an estate plan! Even young professionals and definitely married couples. Definitely people with kids and people with pets! Even college students can benefit from putting a power of attorney in place. And, especially working and middle-class folks need a up-to-date estate plan.

At the seminar, attendees can have a living will or medical power of attorney form notarized at the event if they bring their completed documents.

The session will be held 5:30-7 p.m. on September 19 at the ISBA Headquarters in Des Moines. Interested? You can register online here.

According to their website, the ISBA will “identify other topics of public interest and host similar seminars in the future,” so be on the look out for other upcoming opportunities to learn more about the law as a part of your life.

If you’ve dropped all the excuses and committed to making your estate plan happen, that’s great! It’s easy to get started with my free Estate Plan Questionnaire. Questions or want to discuss your estate? Don’t hesitate to contact me via email or by phone at 515-371-6077.

Before we dig in to the details of what role a health care power of attorney document is and how it fits into the grand estate plan scheme let’s consider three hypotheticals.

Health hypothetical #1

Jill is in a serious car accident. While chances of recovery are good, it will take time. In the meantime, Jill is necessarily on serious painkillers and in recovery she’s sleeping much more than usual. Between her injuries, medications, and need for sleep, Jill isn’t particularly communicative.

Health hypothetical #2

Sam is beginning to suffer from early onset dementia. Things become harder to remember. He feels almost as if a fog is falling around him. It’s growing worse. Even simple concepts, or simple choices, are becoming more difficult for him.

Health hypothetical #3

Elizabeth suffers from manic depressive disorder. Most of the time, drugs, therapy, and a regime of proper exercise and sleep keep the disease in check. But, still she has “episodes” of an exhilarating, super energizing high, followed by a dark crash into deep depression.

Common Legal Need for Jill, Sam, and Elizabeth?

Jill, Sam, and Elizabeth have very different diagnoses and face very different challenges. But, in at least one way, Jill, Sam, and Elizabeth are the same. All three would be wise, for multiple common-sensical reasons, to execute a a health care power of attorney (“health care PoA”).

We’ll come back to Jill, Sam, and Elizabeth shortly, but first let’s discuss the basics of an estate plan and in particular a health care PoA.

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 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 a your health care PoA 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 Health Care PoA?

If 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 healthc are 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” Health Care 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.

Health Care PoAs in our Hypothetical Examples

Speaking of everyone’s unique needs, a health care PoA would help Jill, Sam, and Elizabeth, despite their disparate diagnoses and circumstances.

Jill, who suffered severe injuries in a car accident, could use a health care PoA.

Sam, who has early onset dementia, needs a health care PoA.

Elizabeth, with her mental health diagnosis, would benefit from a health care PoA.

Do you have a Health Care PoA 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 the off chance the unexpected becomes existence.

Do you have further questions about a health care PoA for you or your family? You can email me anytime at gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com or call me on my cell at 515-371-6077.

Are you interested in securing your future through putting into place a solid estate plan? A great first step is to download my helpful (and free!) Estate Plan Questionnaire.