Posts

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.

College student in graduation robes

If your child went to college this year you likely helped them acquire 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 Healthcare

A power of attorney for healthcare designates someone to handle your healthcare decisions for you if you become unable to make those decisions for yourself. This essentially gives another person the power to make decisions on your behalf. For example, if you don’t want to be kept alive with machines, you can clearly outline that in your power of attorney for healthcare. 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 healthcare decisions for themselves, then a trusted adult (such as you, the parent) could make such decisions in the best interest of their health.

Power of Attorney for Finances

The power of attorney for finances is similar to the power of attorney for healthcare; 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 (pun intended) 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.

Gordon Fischer Iowa City At Desk-Estate Plan

Estate planning.

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, well, yes, it forces one to think about one’s own mortality. 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.

Estate plan: you almost surely need one

Almost everyone needs some kind of 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 (rare) cases, I strongly recommend making sure your beneficiary designations are completed and up to date (for example, on your bank/credit union savings accounts and retirement benefit plan). But, if you are 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!

Baby in arms of dad

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 most everyone’s  estate plan. Plus, you should keep them updated and current. Also, don’t forget about assets with your beneficiary designations. For most Iowans, that’s good – six documents, keeping them current, and also remembering about those assets with beneficiary designations.

Sure, estate planning is complicated, but not that complicated. I’ll show you.

Six “must have” documents of your estate plan

There are six documents that should be part of most everyone’s estate plan:

  1. Estate planning questionnaire
  2. Will
  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 Plan Questionnaire

Estate planning involves facing heavy questions, and depending on the amount 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 an easy way to get all of your information in one place, and it should help you understand and prioritize estate planning goals. (I must also admit a questionnaire 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.

Last Will and Testament

Now let’s get to the will. The will is the bedrock document of every estate plan, and it’s a little more complicated than other documents.

With your will, you’ll be answering three major questions:

  1. Who do you want to have your stuff? A will provides orderly distribution of your property at death according to your wishes. Your property includes both tangible and intangible things. (An example of tangible items would be your coin collection. An example of an intangible asset would be stocks.)
  1. 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.
  1. Who do you want to take care of your kids? If you have minor children (i.e., kids under age 18), you’ll want to designate a legal guardian(s) who will take care of your children until they are adults.

Power of Attorney for Health Care

Assorted pills

A power of attorney for health care designates someone to handle your health care decisions for you if you become unable to make those decisions for yourself. This essentially gives another person the power to make decisions on your behalf. For example, if you don’t want to be kept alive with machines, you can clearly outline that in your power of attorney for health care. But keep in mind that power of attorney for health care isn’t just about end-of-life decisions – it can cover any medical situation.

Power of Attorney for Finances

The power of attorney for financial matters is similar, 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 say 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 you trust.

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 Suzie to have a specific piece of jewelry, and your nephew Karl to have that bookshelf he loved, then you’d say so in this document.

Disposition of Final Remains

We come to the disposition of final remains. This document is where you get to tell your loved ones exactly how you want your body to be treated after you pass away. If you want a marching band and fireworks shooting your ashes into the sky (that’s a thing, by the way), then this is where you make it known. It can be as general as simply saying “I want to be cremated,” or it can be specific and include details of plots you’ve already purchased or arrangements you’ve already made.

Keep updated and current

OK, so you’ve gone to an estate planning lawyer, and these six “must have” 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 such events would include:

  • The 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 other heir dies, becomes ill, or becomes disabled

This is just a short list of life events that should cause you to re consider your estate plan. There are many others.

Don’t forget about your beneficiary designations

There are six “must have” estate planning documents, plus you need to keep them current. Also, don’t forget about your beneficiary designations. For example, 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 appropriate institution

What other documents might you need resides these six “must have” estate planning documents?

For most Iowans, probably the vast majority, what I’ve outlined above is enough. There may be folks who have more that $5 million in assets, 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. But that will be more “advanced” estate planning. What I’ve described above is an excellent start.

See? That wasn’t so bad!

Glasses on estate planning documents

There it is in a nutshell. This is what goes into an estate plan.

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.

Perhaps most importantly, through proper estate planning, you can help your favorite charities in ways large and small. Really, without estate planning, it’s not possible, at your death, to help nonprofits you care about.

Begin today

Why not start right now on your own plan for the future with my free estate plan questionnaire? It’s provided to you free, without any obligation. I would love to discuss your estate plan with you; reach out at any time by email, gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com, or cell phone, 515-371-6077.