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coffee-book-table-word-nerd

In the past I’ve written about specific “legal words of the day” where we take a deep dive into terms that can be confusing, misleading, or unknown. A few of the favorites? Breach of contract, subpoena, and inclusion rider. But, if you’re a word nerd like me, one word or phrase per blog post is not enough! Read on for nine important words related to a key estate planning tool you should know about—trusts.

Trust

To begin, what’s a “trust” itself? No, a trust is not like “I trust you to care for my dog while I’m on summer vacation.” Think more “trust fund kid,” except know that trusts are definitely not just for the wealthy. Trusts can be key to helping you achieve your estate planning (and charitable giving) goals.  At its most basic, a trust is a legal agreement between three parties: the settlor (or grantor), the trustee, and beneficiary. Let’s look at the meaning of these three parties, and then delve more into words which explain how a trust works.

Grantor

All trusts have a grantor, sometimes referred to as the “settlor” or “trustor.” The grantor creates the trust and has legal authority to transfer property to the trust.

Trustee

The trustee is the person who receives the property and accepts the obligation to hold the property for the benefit of the beneficiary. The trustee is responsible for managing the property according to the rules outlined in the trust document and must do so in the best interests of the beneficiary. A trustee can be one, two, or many persons.

Corporate Trustee

There is a specific type of trustee called the corporate trustee. Many banks, other financial institutions, and even a few law firms have trust departments to manage trusts and carry out duties of trustees. These are professional trustees (so they should be very good at their roles) and charge fees for services rendered.

Beneficiary

The beneficiary is the person or entity benefiting from the trust. The beneficiary can be one person/entity or multiple parties (true also of grantor and trustee). Multiple trust beneficiaries do not have to have the same interests in the trust property. Also, trust beneficiaries do not have to even exist at the time the trust is created (such as a future grandchild, or charitable foundation that has been set up yet).

Concurrent Interests or Successive Interests

In cases of multiple beneficiaries, the beneficiaries may hold concurrent interests or successive interests. An example of concurrent interests is a group of beneficiaries identified as grandchildren of the grantors, who all receive distributions after their grandparents’ deaths. An example of successive interests is a trust in which one beneficiary has an interest for a term of years, and the other beneficiary holds a future interest, to become possessory only after the present interest terminates.

Principal, or Corpus, or Res

A trust can be either funded or unfunded. By funded, I mean that trust property has been placed “inside” the trust. This property is called the “principal,”  “corpus,” or “res.”  A trust is unfunded until property is transferred into the name of the trustee of the trust.

Inter Vivos Trusts and Testamentary Trusts

One common way to describe trusts is by their relationship to the life of their grantor. Those created while the grantor is alive are referred to as inter vivos trusts or living trusts. Trusts created after the grantor has died are called testamentary trusts.

Probate

A major benefit of trusts is avoiding “probate.” Probate is a court process that involves filing the will and a petition in probate court, followed by an inventory, property appraisal, totaling of owed debts and taxes, and payments of court costs and attorney’s and executor’s fees. After all of that is finished what’s left goes to the grantor’s beneficiaries. The estate of any decedent, whether s/he had a will or did not have a will, has to go through probate. A funded living trust can be a smart way to have your estate avoid the probate process. How does this work? Upon death the trustee simply distributes the assets within the trust as directed by the grantor. The caveat is that the property must be transferred to the trust.

Language lesson done for the day!

Beyond these important words, you should also know that trusts can have great utility in estate planning.

Among many other benefits, trusts have the advantages of:

  • saving money, including probate costs and other taxes and fees;
  • being extremely flexible;
  • efficiently moving assets to your heirs and beneficiaries; and
  • privacy.

Do you have an estate plan? Have you thought about a trust? I offer a free one-hour consultation,  please always feel free to email me at gordon@gordonfischerlafirm.com or call me at 515-371-6077.

What’s the most interesting estate planning-related word you’ve learned? Share it in the comments below!

wealthy dollar bills

There is a rumor that has been floating around that only the rich need estate planning. That is extremely false. Everyone needs an estate plan, but the wealthy don’t need estate planning as much as the middle-class and working-class folks. If this contradicts everything you’ve ever thought about estate planning allow me to explain.

The Case of Kingston Lear

Suppose Kingston Lear (get it?!), a wealthy Iowan, decides he doesn’t need a qualified and experienced estate planner, he can do it himself, or use an online, one-size-fits-all service. Hey, Lear figures, this way he’s saving both time and money. Also, nothing is going to happen to him for a while, he can get around to doing a proper estate plan with a proper estate planning professional “someday.”

Of course, “someday” never comes, but Lear’s death does. His three daughters are aghast that Lear has no real estate plan. The template resembling an estate plan is completely inadequate for the size and complexity of Lear’s assets.

A Matter of Trusts

Lear could have easily, with the help of a professional advisor, set up a trust (even a plain, “vanilla” revocable living trust would have worked) to avoid probate. But, the online service he used didn’t even explain the difference between wills and trusts. So, Lear’s assets all must go through probate. This means that the time and money Lear though he was saving is gone in a flash.

Probate Costs and Fees, If You Please

Probate fees are going to equate to at least 2% cut of Lear’s estate. Remember, Lear’s estate is large and complex and valued at $10 million, so the actual figure is probably going to be more like four percent.

Using 4% as the figure for probate fees means a loss of $40,000 ($10 million X .04 = $400,000). This is $400,000 that could have been passed down to his daughters through a trust, or split generously between his heirs and charitable organizations near and dear to Lear’s heart.

Also, court costs may amount to another 1%, or loss of $10,000 more ($10 million X .01 = $100,000).

Loss of Privacy

Another major benefit of a trust—again, not explained to Lear because didn’t seek any individualized advice—is privacy. A will (or most any document that goes through probate, absent very special circumstances) is simply a public document. Anyone can read, copy, share, and write about it.

Consider one of Lear’s major assets was an ongoing business—a Shakespearean-themed jousting complex, where families could have fun practicing jousting.

horses at fence

Unfortunately, in some of the probate papers, it was disclosed that there had been numerous complaints by the Iowa Horse Association about the treatment of horses. It isn’t long until this hits the blogs, and some of the more sensational aspects of the report (though hotly disputed) goes viral. The jousting park which had been quite profitable, is now eschewed by all the good people of the area. The daughters are forced to sell the business asset to preserve the family’s good name (or what’s left of it) and sell at a loss. While the jousting park had been worth as much as $1 million, the daughters have to sell, so there’s a “paper loss,” but nonetheless less a loss, of another $900,000.

Loss of Future Profits

The $900,000 is a conservative figure; it doesn’t include lost future profits. If not for the scandal becoming public, who knows how long the jousting park could have remained really popular and this profitable. Years? Decades? It’s quite difficult to quantify, but it’s certainly probable that there are some lost profits. The question is: how much?

Costs of Cases

Because Lear’s will wasn’t drafted by professional, there are many ambiguities and loopholes. It’s not long before the three daughters begin fighting and, with unclear direction from their father, they wind up suing each other.

Taking a court case all the way to trial can easily mean $50,000 in attorney’s fees, plus each daughter will want and need her own attorney. So, another $150,000 is lost to attorney’s fees!

Total Losses Equal?

Lear could have had his estate plan done by an Iowa professional for a few thousand dollars. Instead, he lost a total far greater than that:

  • Probate Fees: $400,000
  • Probate Court Costs: $100,000
  • Loss on Sale of Jousting Park: $900,000
  • Loss of Future Profits of Jousting Park: Incalculable?
  • Attorney’s Fees for Daughters’ Litigation $150,000

This is a hit for the inheritance of $1.55 million, leaving $8.5 million (rounded up), or a little less than $3 million per daughter. But you know what? That still leaves an inheritance of $8.5 million to be split amongst three sisters.

The Rich Can Afford Bad Estate Planning

crown - silver

Lear acted unwisely, arguably recklessly! A great deal of his money was wasted that could have been used for great charitable work in Iowa through local nonprofit organizations. But, for all his foolishness, Lear’s daughters still end up with $3 million each. Will the daughters incur much suffering with “only” $3 million? No.

That the rub; the rich can afford to make big (and small) estate planning mistakes.

You Can’t Afford Bad Estate Planning

Let’s look at this from a normal Iowan perspective. At least 2% in probate costs and fees, a huge drop in value in a key asset, attorney’s fees for litigation…can a middle-class estate merely shrug these kinds of losses off? Not a chance.

The rich aren’t like you and me. They can badly botch estate planning. You and I can’t afford to make mistakes with our estates; there’s not room (and not enough money!) for error.

Need an estate plan but aren’t sure where to start? It’s easy from start to finish. Fill out my obligation-free Estate Plan Questionnaire or contact me.

woman in front of painting

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

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

All of this art excitement brings up an interesting situation to consider: how do you incorporate your art collection into your estate plan? Sure, you likely don’t have an authentic da Vinci, Renoir, or Klimt just hanging in your living room, but maybe you have a couple pieces you inherited or a growing modern art collection.

Value of a Passion

For most collectors the art isn’t about monetary value, but more so about a passion for a certain period, artist, or medium. Collecting is often an act of genuine appreciation for the fine arts. Considering both the intrinsic and market value of your art collection it’s ESSENTIAL you include it as a part of your estate plan. The collection is, after all, a part of your total estate’s value and they way it’s handled in your estate plan could impact the value of your gross estate in regards to the federal estate tax. When it comes to the estate planning goal of avoiding such taxes and fees the appraised value of your art is paramount to consider. Naturally you want your collection to be well-treated following your passing, as well as retain its value.

Let’s go through some important steps and elements to consider.

Assemble Documentation

Value of the collection will be important to the estate plan. If you haven’t done so already, you must correctly catalog, photograph, insure, and appraise the collection. You should also gather all documentation such as appraisals and bills of sale that will need to accompany the artwork as it changes hands upon your estate plan’s execution.

Weigh Your Options

With an art collection there are three main options for disposition within your estate plan (or to be executed during your life).

Donate

Donating your art to a charitable organization or a museum is an excellent way to practice smart charitable giving. It can also be one of the more simple options. Donate through your estate plan following your death and the estate will receive a tax deduction based on the current valuation. Give while you’re living and you can take an income tax deduction, also based on the value of the piece or collection at the time of the donation.

With this options you and the recipient organization should agree to signed terms and conditions BEFORE the artwork delivery. Details can include specifics as to where and how the art is to be displayed, if you want your name on the signage next to the painting, and similar details.

museum art collection

Bequest Artwork to your Loved Ones

Another common option is to keep the art within the family by passing along the art along to your estate’s heirs. Yes, you could gift each individual piece to each family member, but if you want to keep the collection in tact you could transfer the collection to a trust you create while living that can be updated and changed during your lifetime. A trust is a solid estate planning tool that allows your named trust beneficiaries to avoid estate tax and probate complications and fees. In the formation of your trust you can also define the terms for care and condition of the artwork.

You could instead bequest the collection to an entity like an LLC you create. In this case your heirs would own interest in the LLC instead of each owning a piece of art. In your estate plan and in the development of the entity you can appoint a manager (or multiple managers) who make sales or purchasing decisions for the collection.

framed art collection

Sell

It goes without staying that art is expensive—to buy and to sell. There are benefits (and detriments) to this option during life and after death, but waiting to sell until after death means the art’s value will be included in the estate. As such the capital gains tax could be lessened or entirely eliminated because the tax basis for the art collection is increased to fair market value at the time of death, instead of what you paid for the art/collection. If you instead would like to sell while alive you can likely expect to pay a capital gains tax on top of a sales commission fee and sales tax (among other potential fees).

black and white art collection

Give, gift, sell—whatever option you choose, select a plan that allows you to feel at peace with where and to whom your collection is headed.

Enlist an Expert

Regardless of what option you want to pursue in the disposition of your art work, you need to work with an experienced estate planner who can help navigate the complexity of your estate. It’s your estate planning lawyer who can help you establish a framework for passing along your artwork to your chosen beneficiaries.

Discuss With Your Family

Depending on your family dynamic, discussing your estate plan with your loved ones can be difficult. It can bring up emotion and hard topics like mortality, however to avoid litigation, mitigate in-fighting, and to help determine what’s the best course of actions forward for your property it’s necessary. When it comes to your art collection, your heirs may not feel the same way about the artwork that you do and knowing these opinions is critical in the decision of what to do with the collection.

When having the conversation, cultivate an environment in which your family can discuss openly and freely without judgement. You want their honest opinions as a part of your decision in what to do with your collection in the event of your passing.

art graffiti


Just as the art itself can be exceedingly complex, so can incorporating said art into an estate plan. You probably have questions; don’t hesitate to reach out at any time via email or phone (515-371-6077). I offer a free one-hour consultation and would love to help you protect your artistic assets through quality, individualized estate planning.

Businessman taking notes and planning in a meeting

What Can You Fit Into a Trust? 

Q: How many elephants will fit into a Minivan?

A: Four: Two in the front, two in the back.

Q: How many giraffes will fit into a Minivan?

A: None. It’s full of elephants.

You can fit any asset into a trust. No joke! Here is a short list of assets actually placed into trusts:

  1. Airplanes
  2. Antique automobiles
  3. Antiques
  4. Artwork
  5. Assets held by C Corporation
  6. Assets held by S Corporation
  7. Autographed books
  8. Barn doors
  9. Beach house
  10. Beanie Babies
  11. Boats
  12. Bonds
  13. Books
  14. Bookstore
  15. Boxes
  16. Boxing gloves
  17. Broadway musical
  18. C Corporation stock
  19. Cheese shoppe
  20. Chocolate store specializing in “I love chocolate” t-shirts
  21. Chocolate store specializing in baking chocolate
  22. Chocolate store specializing in bars of chocolate
  23. Chocolate store specializing in candy-coated chocolate
  24. Chocolate store specializing in chocolate and almonds
  25. Chocolate store specializing in chocolate mixed with peanut butter
  26. Chocolate store specializing in couverture chocolate
  27. Chocolate store specializing in dark chocolate
  28. Chocolate store specializing in milk chocolate
  29. Chocolate store specializing in organic chocolate
  30. Chocolate store specializing in hot chocolate
  31. Chocolate store specializing in liqueurs chocolate
  32. Chocolate store specializing in semi dark chocolate
  33. Chocolate store specializing in sweet chocolate
  34. Chocolate store specializing in white chocolate
  35. Chocolate store* (You’re now probably quizzically asking, “Should I send GFLF chocolate?”)
  36. Coin collections
  37. Comic books collection
  38. Commercial and residential real estate
  39. Condominiums
  40. Credit card rebates
  41. Cupcake-ry
  42. Depression-era glass
  43. Dolls
  44. Enamelware
  45. Equestrian ribbons
  46. Farmland
  47. Ghosts
  48. Gold bullion
  49. Grain
  50. Guitars
  51. Hedge fund carried interest
  52. Historic papers
  53. Installment notes
  54. Intellectual property
  55. Law firm
  56. Life insurance
  57. Limited liability partnerships
  58. Livestock
  59. Marbles
  60. Mineral rights
  61. Monica (my wife)
  62. Monsters
  63. Music store
  64. Mutual funds
  65. NHL team
  66. Oil and gas interests
  67. Olives
  68. Operating partnership units
  69. Paint-by-number landscapes
  70. Painted planks
  71. Paintings
  72. Patents
  73. Photographs
  74. Pickles
  75. Pooled income funds
  76. Racehorses
  77. Real estate
  78. Restaurant
  79. Restricted stock (144 and 145)
  80. Retained life estate
  81. Retirement benefits
  82. Royalties
  83. S Corporation stock
  84. Sculpture
  85. Sculpture garden
  86. Sea urchins
  87. Seat on New York Mercantile Stock Exchange
  88. Seats at events
  89. Snow globes
  90. Soda pop bottles
  91. Spirits of the damned
  92. Stamp Collection
  93. Stocks
  94. Tangible personal property
  95. Taxidermy
  96. Teddy bears [multiple]
  97. Timber deeds
  98. Vacation home
  99. Vehicles
  100. Violin
  101. Wines

*Yes, this is a cry for help. I love sweets, especially chocolate, way too much.

chocolate stacked up

Photo by Michał Grosicki on Unsplash

What is a trust anyway?

I explain trust basics here but I wanted to make sure folks understand that ANY asset, or set of assets, can be placed into a trust. Truly, a trust can hold any and every asset.

WHY put assets in trust?

There can be many reasons to use a trust, and specific benefits can accrue from specific trusts. In general there are four great reasons to initiate a trust.

1. Save money

Using a trust, you avoid probate, which can save you lots of money. Probate will generally take two percent-plus of your estate, and even “just” two percent of your entire estate can add up to a lot of money. Avoiding probate also helps you avoid fees, costs, and taxes.

2. Save time

save time with trust

Using a trust, you avoid probate, which can save you lots of time. Going through probate, even here in Iowa, can take several months, to a year, or even more. Your heirs and beneficiaries may not receive their inheritances until the end of this probate process. Again, with trusts, you bypass probate. With trusts, your beneficiaries can get their inheritances in mere days, or weeks, rather than several months.

3. Flexibility of distributions

Don’t want your 18-year-old to inherit half-a-million dollars in one fell swoop? I agree, it’s not a good idea. Trusts offer flexibility for pay out of inheritances. You set the ground rules of when and how distributions are made. For example, you might decide your children can receive distributions at certain ages. (For example, one-third at age 25, one-third at age 30, and the remaining at age 40). Or, you might decide your children can receive distributions at attainment of certain milestones, such as marriage, birth of a child, buying a first home, or receiving a certain degree.

4. Privacy

Privacy with a trust

Probate proceedings are public. Your will, once you pass and it is filed in court, is a public record. Some desire privacy about financial matters (say, about their family business) even after death.

Also, privacy can prevent hurt feelings among family members. For example, do you really want your Cousin Joe to know he received significantly less than all the other cousins?

What are the drawbacks to a trust?

It’s a more expensive to set up a trust than basic estate plan documents, although I would say those costs are greatly outweighed by the money you’ll save your estate in the end. It’s also a bit of an administrative hassle, as your assets (such as car, house, stock funds, etc.) have to be retitled in the name of the trust. Again, though, I believe this inconvenience is much outweighed by the smooth operation of a trust at death.

Let’s talk about trusts!

Two people talking at table

Photo by Nik MacMillan on Unsplash

Have an asset that didn’t make the list of 101 items? It can probably still go in a trust (even if it isn’t chocolate related!). Sometimes it’s hard to know if a trust may be right for your personal situation. It certainly doesn’t hurt to take me up on my offer for a free one-hour consultation. Give me a call at 515-371-6077 or shoot me an email at gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com.