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Gordon Fischer at desk with client

I’ve previously written about the six “must have” documents of everyone’s estate plan. These documents include some key people that are essential. But, the terms for some of these roles can be confusing. Let’s review the main ones today.

Who/What is a Beneficiary?

Let’s talk first about beneficiaries. This is a basic term you’ve probably heard before or seen while filling out documents. Your beneficiary is the person to whom you leave your belongings, assets, money, land, etc. Of course you can leave your stuff to more than one person, in which case there would be multiple beneficiaries. With multiple beneficiaries, you’ll have to clearly designate who gets what. This can be done in a number of ways; for example, percentages of total value of the estate, or it can be done with specifics.

An example of percentages:  “I want Beth to inherit 20% of my estate.”

An example of a specific bequest:  “I want my son John to inherit the country house and I want my daughter Suzie Q to inherit the lake house.”

You don’t have to be related to your beneficiaries, and you’re under no obligation to leave anything to family members whom you wish not to receive your assets (no matter how hard that may be or how guilty you might feel). You could elect to leave part or your entire estate to charities. It truly is your choice as to who should benefit under your estate plan.

There’s a lot more to say about beneficiaries, but for now, just remember to make sure all documents are up-to-date. Keeping your estate plan up-to-date ensures you avoid nightmares like your ex-husband from years ago cashing in on your retirement funds.

How about an Executor?

Let’s talk about the executor of the will. An executor is the person who is in charge of your estate plan. They make sure the will is carried out as it is written. It’s not an awful job, but it is an awful lot of responsibility. Most folks, having never had to deal with the execution of a will, might not know how arduous it can actually be. Additionally, your executor might be close to you and grieving your passing while trying to make sure everything is taken care of properly. It can be stressful, to say the least.

When picking an executor, you want to make sure it’s someone you trust. Obvious, right? But, it’s so much more than that. We all have people in our lives we love and trust on a personal level, but we know they’re not responsible with things like finances and details. Those people would not a good executor choice, generally speaking. Look for someone in your life who is detail-oriented and can handle the part-time job of dispensing an estate.

If there’s no such person in your life, or even if there is and you simply don’t want to burden them with the task, there’s another great option: corporate executors or trustees–which can be found at a bank or a credit union. The corporate executor offers the bonus of being completely neutral in all things, which can be helpful if you have sticky family dynamics that might make life difficult for the executor. The corporate executor does come at a cost, which is usually based on the size of the estate. I tend to think you get what you pay for, and this could be an excellent option to consider.

If you do go with an executor you know personally, you’ll want to sit down and talk with them about it. You want them to know that you’ve assigned them the task and why you chose them specifically. And, if you’re choosing one child out of many, you’ll want everyone to be on the same page so there’s no unexpected turbulence after you’re gone.

How about Legal Guardians?

Legal guardians are the folks who will take care of your minor children should something happen to you before they reach the age of 18. Like your executor, this job requires a lot of trust in the person you choose.

Clearly, this is not a job that ends after the estate is closed. Who you decide to choose should be a matter of closeness of relationship (as in bond, not necessarily family ties), mutual values, and ability to handle the responsibility. Have an in-depth conversation with the person or people you choose. You want to confirm that you’re comfortable with their parenting style, make sure they feel they’re up to the job, and let them know why you chose them.

Important Trait in Common: Trust

What’s the key theme in all of these roles from beneficiaries to executors to legal guardians? Trust. The level of trust you have in the people who are involved in and benefit from your estate plan should be strong to be successful. If you ever have any questions about selecting the key players in your estate plan, don’t hesitate to reach out.

Your Estate Plan Should be Unique to You

There it is in a nutshell. Those are the basics of the key people in your estate plan.

Whether your estate plan is simple or complicated, it does require some thought and time, but it’s worth the investment. A proper estate plan can save you and your estate costs, taxes, 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.

No Day Like Today

Why not start right now with my Estate Planning Questionnaire? It’s provided to you free, without any obligation.

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

charitable giving presentation

If you’re a professional advisor (such as a financial advisor, insurance agent, attorney, or accountant, among others) looking for more information on how to advise your clients on smart charitable giving strategies, I’d love to speak with you and your colleagues. At every chance, I’m happy to share my firm’s mission to “maximize charitable giving in Iowa” with groups of any size!

rows of brown chairs

In terms of topics, there is actually very little in the area of charitable giving that I do not feel comfortable presenting about. So, if you have a specific subject in mind, do not hesitate to propose it. The following is a sampling of topics I’ve spoken about previously. I can easily combine multiple topics to best fit the presentation to the group’s objectives.

Planned Giving 101

  1. What is “planned giving?”
  2. Gifting during lifetime versus gifting at death
    • Advantages and disadvantages of each
    • Meet clients/donors “where they’re at”
  3. What 2017 federal tax legislation changed for charitable giving
    • Two huge challenges: charitable deduction & estate tax
  4. The seven basic estate planning documents everyone needs (and how charitable giving fits in)
  5. IRA Charitable Rollover & other gifting opportunities through retirement benefit plans
  6. The numerous benefits of the Endow Iowa Tax Credit
  7. Ins and outs of donor-advised funds
  8. Highly appreciated stock and other non-cash assets

Planned Giving 201 (Advanced Gift Types)

When I give presentations on advanced gift types, I also include a short summary of Planned Giving 101 topics.

  1. Charitable gift annuity (CGA)
  2. Charitable remainder trust (CRT)
  3. Charitable remainder annuity trust (CRAT)
  4. Charitable remainder uni-trust (CRUT)
  5. Flip CRUT
  6. Charitable lead trust (CLT)
  7. Retained life estate

Working Together is Better

I can also speak to how nonprofit staff (most especially development officers) and professional advisors can best work together for mutual benefit and for the betterment of clients.

four people around a computer

Fundraising Ethics

Another topic I’ve also discussed in the past is the ethics of fundraising: how to spot warning signs of an impending ethical dilemma; the best ways to handle common ethics concerns; what actions to avoid; etc.

Exceed Client Expectations

If you present me with a list of your most top learning objectives, I would be happy to tailor a high-quality presentation to the group targeting those specific points. Really, any presentation related to charitable giving should be about what can make an impact in the lives and decisions of your clients. Let’s work together to help you and your team exceed client expectations and make an actionable impact on charitable giving in Iowa.

Contact me via email or phone (515-371-6077) to get your learning session planned and scheduled!

 

There are several provisions that just about all employee handbooks should include. Let’s simply cover the top five. There are certainly numerous other important provisions to include in an employee handbook, but these five are critical and provide important protections for employers (both nonprofit and for-profit).

The employee handbook should make it clear it is NOT a contract. The employee handbook needs a “disclaimer.”

Under Iowa law it’s critically important to point out that the employee handbook is just that–a handbook–and not an employment contract. And, the employee handbook should not make any promises about continued employment. Consider using language similar to this:

I understand and agree that nothing in the Employee Handbook creates, or is intended to create, a promise or representation of continued employment and that employment at [Nonprofit/Company] is employment at will, which may be terminated at the will of either [Nonprofit/Company] or myself. Furthermore, I acknowledge that this handbook is neither a contract of employment nor a legal document.

The employee handbook should make clear it trumps other, older policies and provisions. The employee handbook needs a “superseding” provision.

The employee handbook should make clear that it includes the most up-to-date guidance on company policies. Wording like this may be helpful:

This handbook and the policies and procedures contained herein supersede any and all prior practices, oral, or written representations, or statements regarding the terms and conditions of my employment with [Nonprofit/Company]. By distributing this handbook, [Nonprofit/Company] expressly revokes any and all previous policies and procedures that are inconsistent with those contained herein.

The employee handbook should make clear it is subject to change. It needs “wiggle room” language.

Paperwork on table

The policies in the handbook may well be subject to change. Of course, new issues arise, and you may need to make revisions. Consider using something like the following:

I understand that, except for employment-at-will status, any and all policies and practices may be changed at any time by [Nonprofit/Company], and [Nonprofit/Company] reserves the right to change my hours, wages, and working conditions at any time. All such changes will be communicated through official notices, and I understand that revised information may supersede, modify, or eliminate existing policies.

The employee handbook should make clear that employees are “at will.”

The employee handbook must be unambiguous about employees’ at will status:

Your employment is not for any specific time and may be terminated at will with or without cause and without prior notice by [Nonprofit/Company].

The employee handbook should contain an acknowledgment page.

Paper and computer

It is important the employee handbook includes an acknowledgment page that the employee signs and returns. The acknowledgment page should state that the employee understands it is his or her responsibility to read and follow the policies. The acknowledgment page should also be able to be separated from the handbook so that it can be signed by the employee and saved in the employee’s personnel file. Wording like this might be helpful:

I have received the handbook, and I understand that it is my responsibility to read and comply with the policies contained in this handbook and any revisions made to it.

________________________________________
Employee’s Signature

________________________________________
Employee’s Name (Print)

____________________
Date

TO BE PLACED IN EMPLOYEE’S PERSONNEL FILE


Does your employee handbook contain these five provisions? Why or why not? I’d love to hear from you. Give me a call at 515-371-6077 or email me at gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com.

Hands giving ornament

Thanks for reading the 25 Days of Giving series! Plan on coming back to the blog every day from now through Christmas Day.

25 days of Christmas - Holiday giving

Tangible personal property is a fancy way of saying “stuff,” such as a painting, computer, furniture, and collectibles (excluding securities, cash, and real estate).  So, if you want to donate your stuff to your favorite charity, what are the tax consequences?

Related Use

The amount of your federal income tax charitable deduction depends on the concept of “related use.” If appreciated tangible personal property is considered related to the charity’s exempt purpose, the deduction is based on fair market value (FMV) and available to the extent of 30% of your adjusted gross income (AGI).

If property is considered unrelated to the public charity’s exempt purpose, you must reduce the FMV by any amount that would have been long-term capital gain had you sold the property for its fair market value. (In short, if the FMV was greater than the basis in the property, your deduction is limited to your basis.)

To sum it up: in order for a donor of tangible personal property to be able to deduct its full FMV, the charity must use the object in a manner that is related to its (the charity’s) exempt purpose. A classic example is the gift of a piece of art, like a sculpture or painting, to an art museum.

Hypothetical

This concept of “related use” can have very profound tax consequences. For instance, assume Jill Donor owns a painting which is now worth $100,000, but Donor purchased it for only $20,000.

If Donor gives this painting to an art museum that keeps and displays the painting, Donor can deduct the painting’s full $100,000 FMV. If Donor gives the same painting to, say, a nature conservancy, which will sell the painting and use the proceeds, Donor can deduct only her $20,000 cost.

Note, that even if the object is potentially related to the charity’s mission–such as a painting given to an art museum–if the charity’s intention is to sell it upon receipt, then the gift is not for a related use and the donor’s deduction will be limited accordingly.

From our hypothetical, it doesn’t necessarily have to be gifted to a museum to be considered for a related use. In Private Letter Ruling 9833011, the IRS ruled that a gift of art to a Jewish community center would be for a related use, as the artwork had both religious and cultural significance. Also, a painting gifted to, say, a hospital may be for a related use if the hospital will display it in a common area so that it helps foster a healing environment for patients.

hands holding evergreen fir

Takeaway

The big takeaway for nonprofits? Nonprofit boards and staffs should know and understand about “related use,” so they can recognize the issue if it arises.

The big takeaway for donors? Donors should obtain in writing the charity’s intent to use the property for a purpose related to its mission.

I want to help you, whether you’re a nonprofit organization or donor, wisely maximize your charitable giving. Don’t hesitate to reach out by phone (515-371-6077) or email (gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com).

lights on roof

Thanks for reading the 25 Days of Giving series where w a’re “unwrapping” important info on various aspects of charitable giving each day through Christmas. Share with friends, family, & colleagues to inspire others to also make meaningful gifts this season.

If you’re making a non-cash charitable donation of over $5,000, first off, high five! That’s going to go a long way toward helping your favorite charity or advancing a cause you feel passionate about. Because you’re a smart donor, you’re also probably planning to claim the federal income tax charitable deduction as a way of reducing your taxes. In order to do this, gifts of that size come with specific requirements from the IRS that you’ll want to be sure to meet.

Requirements for “qualified appraisal” and “qualified appraiser”

Non-cash gifts of more than $5,000 in value, with exceptions, require a qualified appraisal completed by a qualified appraiser. The terms “qualified appraisal” and “qualified appraiser” are very specific and have detailed definitions according to the IRS.

Qualified appraisal

money on table

A qualified appraisal is a document which is:

  1. made, signed, and dated by a qualified appraiser in accordance with generally accepted appraisal standards;
  2. timely;
  3. does not involve prohibited appraisal fees; and
  4. includes certain and specific information.

Let’s further examine each of these four requirements.

“Qualified appraiser:” Appraiser education and experience requirements

An appraiser is treated as having met the minimum education and experience requirements if she is licensed or certified for the type of property being appraised in the state in which the property is located. For a gift of real estate in Iowa this means certification by the Iowa Professional Licensing Bureau, Real Estate Appraisers.

Further requirements for a qualified appraiser include that s/he:

  1. regularly performs appraisals for compensation;
  2. demonstrates verifiable education and experience in valuing the type of property subject to the appraisal;
  3. understands she may be subject to penalties for aiding and abetting the understatement of tax; and
  4. not have been prohibited from practicing before the IRS at any time during three years preceding the appraisal.

Also, a qualified appraiser must be sufficiently independent. This means a qualified appraiser cannot be any of the following:

  1. the donor;
  2. the donee;
  3. the person from whom the donor acquired the property [with limited exceptions];
  4. any person employed by, or related to, any of the above; and/or
  5. an appraiser who is otherwise qualified, but who has some incentive to overstate the value of the property.

Timing of appraisal

clock against background s

The appraisal must be made not earlier than 60 days prior to the gift and not later than the date the return is due (with extensions).

Prohibited appraisal fees

The appraiser’s fee for a qualified appraisal cannot be based on a percentage of the value of the property, nor can the fee be based on the amount allowed as a charitable deduction.

Specific information in required in appraisal

Specific information must be included in an appraisal, including:

  1. a description of the property;
  2. the physical condition of any tangible property;
  3. the date (or expected date) of the gift;
  4. any restrictions relating to the charity’s use or disposition of the property;
  5. the name, address, and taxpayer identification number of the qualified appraiser;
  6. the appraiser’s qualifications, including background, experience, education, certification, and any membership in professional appraisal associations;
  7. a statement that the appraisal was prepared for income tax purposes;
  8. the date (or dates) on which the property was valued;
  9. the appraised fair market value on the date (or expected date) of contribution;
  10. the method of valuation used to determine fair market value;
  11. the specific basis for the valuation, such as any specific comparable sales transaction; and
  12. an admission if the appraiser is acting as a partner in a partnership, an employee of any person, or an independent contractor engaged by a person, other than the donor, with such a person’s name, address, and taxpayer identification number.

Appraiser’s dated signature and declaration

Again, a qualified appraisal must be signed and dated by the appraiser. Also, there must be a written declaration from the appraiser she is aware of the penalties for substantial or gross valuation.

Reasonable cause

Tax courts have held that a taxpayer’s reliance on the advice of a professional, such as an attorney or CPA constitutes reasonable cause and good faith if the taxpayer can prove by a preponderance of the evidence that: (1) the taxpayer reasonably believed the professional was a competent tax adviser with sufficient expertise to justify reliance; (2) the taxpayer provided necessary and accurate information to the advising professional; and (3) the taxpayer actually relied in good faith on the professional’s advice.

If this sounds like a lot, know you don’t have to navigate these requirements just by yourself. Contact me at any time to discuss your situation and charitable giving goals. We’ll figure out the best course of action together.

Young couple holding hands

So, WHO needs an estate plan, anyway?

Who needs to be most concerned with estate planning? What age group? Ask Iowans this question, and I’ll bet most would conjure up the image of a retiree who just spent 50+ years working hard to acquire significant assets. Of course, it’s important for this demographic to have a quality estate plan, that’s fairly obvious.

But, imagine a young, married couple. They both have good jobs, live in a fine starter home, and have a baby.

 

crying newborn baby

This young couple tries to put away a little bit of money for savings, in a 529 college fund, and for retirement. Why should they worry about estate planning?

The truth is, this young couple should be just as concerned–arguably, even more concerned–with estate planning as the retiree.

Here are four reasons why:

  • Choosing guardians for minor children. In an estate plan, you can choose the guardians of minor children (e.g., children under age 18). If you should become incapacitated, or even die without any estate plan, an Iowa court would have no choice but to appoint a guardian for your children – but it may not be who you wanted or would have chosen. Better to have plenty of time to consider and make a careful, well-reasoned choice.
  • Save on fees, court costs, and taxes. A good estate plan can save you and your estate money on fees, court costs, and taxes. These savings can be even more critically important for a smaller estate (more likely when you’re younger), than for larger estate (more likely as you grow older). Often, young folks actually have the greatest need to save money to pass along the greatest amount they possibly can to family and loved ones.

 

  • Help favorite charities. Having an estate plan means that you can put into place immensely helpful donations for your favorite charities. Without an estate plan there’s no opportunity for you to help your favorite charities
  • Life is uncertain. It may be awkward to talk about, but life isn’t guaranteed for any of us, young or old. There’s an old saying in estate planning circles that goes, “People don’t always die when they are supposed to.” Wives usually outlive their husbands, parents usually outlive their children, and so on, but not always. It is best to be prepared for anything and everything.

 

Mom and daughter hugging

Who should be most concerned with estate planning? I actually think young people should be!

Whatever your age, if you are interested in estate planning (as everyone should want to check it off their list), a good place to start is my free Estate Planning Questionnaire. Questions? Want to discuss you personal situation? Contact me for a free consult!

Financials in book

What is a financial power of attorney?

A financial power of attorney is a legal document that designates someone to handle your financial decisions on your behalf.

What happens if I don’t have a financial power of attorney?

If you do not have a power of attorney and you were to become incapacitated, any financial decisions would need to be made by a court-appointed conservator. At a court’s direction, the conservator would handle your financial assets. It’s a quite expensive and time consuming process, especially compared to the relative simplicity of executing a power of attorney.

After I die, can my agent continue to operate under my financial power of attorney?

A common misperception is that your agent will be able to use this power after your death. At your death, any power of the agent is automatically revoked and it will be necessary to switch management to the representative appointed through probate.

Laptop with finance info on it

Who should I choose to serve as an agent?

The agent you choose will be managing your finances, so it is critically important to choose someone trustworthy; someone who will not abuse or exploit this power; someone who will listen to your wishes, goals, and objectives, as included in the document or otherwise communicated; and, someone who will look out for your best interests.

You also have the option of designating a successor agent who can take over if the original agent is unable or unwilling to serve. This is highly recommended.

Who should receive a copy of my financial power of attorney?

The person named as agent and any person named as a successor agent should receive a copy. It would also be wise to share a copy with your financial institution(s), such as your bank or credit union.

Can I revoke the financial power of attorney?

Yes, you may revoke the document, at any time. You can also amend the document (change it, revise it, etc.) at anytime.


Financial power of attorney is one of the six main documents which comprise Iowans’ estate plans. To get started on establishing your financial power of attorney contact me by phone at 515-371-6077 or email.

happy new year fireworks

Happy New Year! It’s 2018 and if you’re like me, “Auld Lang Syne” was playing merrily in the background as a cup of cheer was raised and confetti fluttered on New Year’s Eve. The title and main chorus of song ubiquitous with the holiday roughly translates to “for old times’ sake.” On that note I’ve spent some quality time (like the song eludes to) reminiscing about the year that’s gone by. I’ve reviewed what Gordon Fischer Law Firm tackled in 2017, but more importantly I’m looking ahead to where we want to go, how to get there, and how to improve along the way. I have a few “resolutions” I want to share…resolutions we actually intend to keep! These goals will work to further advance the mission of the firm “to promote and maximize charitable giving in Iowa.”

At Gordon Fischer Law Firm we fully intend to:

  • Post even more regular content on the GoFisch blog to make it ever easier for both donors and donees to effectuate charitable giving to/for their favorite causes.
  • Continue growing the monthly GoFisch newsletter (have you subscribed?).
  • Additionally, I would like to produce a regular specific newsletter for professional advisors (accountants, financial advisors, insurance agents, and fellow lawyers) with smart planning information to be able to further help Iowans.
  • Present an all-day seminar (for continued education credits) targeted to both nonprofit leaders and professional advisors to discuss all aspects of charitable giving and facilitate beneficial networking.
  • Continue demystifying estate planning for all Iowans—complete with basic forms to help that process along.

Tomorrow I’ll highlight aspects of estate planning and charitable giving you can (and should) incorporate into your goals for 2018. Do you already have such goals in mind? A few examples could be to stop making excuses to avoid estate planning, finally establish that living trust, or consult with a professional about a retained life estate. Don’t hesitate to contact me to discuss. Together we’ll likely be able to set a plan in place for you to achieve your goals (or resolutions) to truly make 2018 your best year yet.

Dandelion blowing in wind

If a charitable contribution is made to a foreign organization, the donor generally cannot deduct the contribution for income tax purposes. Exceptions may apply in very limited situations; specifically, the U.S. has tax treaties with Canada, Israel, and Mexico. Generally, though, if the donee is a foreign charitable organization an income tax deduction is unavailable. Interestingly enough, both the estate and gift tax charitable deductions are available for gifts to foreign charitable organizations.

So, assume Jill Donor wants to help Charity X, which is organized and operated in Paris, France. If Donor made the gift during lifetime then no income tax deduction would be allowed because gifts to foreign charities normally are not deductible for federal income tax purposes. Note, however, that the lifetime gift removes the asset from Jill’s estate, so the gift would have the same effect as a charitable bequest from Donor’s will.

 

Woman looking out from balcony in Paris

It is important to know where the charity is organized and operated. If the organization is operated organized in a foreign nation – such as our example charity organized and operated in Paris, France – donations to such organizations are not eligible for the federal income tax deduction. This is true regardless if donations to a similar organization in the U.S.–such as a similar organization organized and operated in Paris, Texas–would be eligible.

A donor in doubt about a deduction can seek information from the charity, of course. And, a donor can search for the charity using the IRS’ “Select Check” online search tool.

Of course, if concerned about deductibility, a potential donor should also seek advice from a professional advisor. I’m happy to help, so don’t hesitate to reach out via email (gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com) or by phone (515-371-6077) if you’re considering making a donation to a foreign-based charity.