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Estate planning is one of those pesky things you know you absolutely should do, but it tends to get pushed to the bottom of your continuous to-do list. Even the best laid plans to make this the year of finally getting your estate plan in order, life happens and things can get hectic. Unfortunately, when you or your loved one needs an estate plan the most, such as in the tragic situation of unexpected disability or death, it’s not readily available.

Together, let’s tackle at least this part of “adulting.” Together, we’re going to make this year your most prepared one yet! And, in the spirit of a fresh start—a new year—here are six resolutions to set you up for estate plan super success.

Overcome Your Excuses.

It’s understandable why I often hear the same excuses from folks who should have an estate plan (aka everyone older than 18, regardless of age, debts, assets, and marital status), but don’t. Procrastination is a natural part of human nature, especially when you’re putting off perceived conversations on uncomfortable topics like money, death, and taxes. Yet, most people, once they learn the benefits which accrue to a completed estate plan, initial discomfort fades. So, let’s eliminate the three most common excuses:

Not enough time or too busy.

Let’s be honest, there’s never enough time. There never will be. The (sometimes cruel) irony of estate planning is that it’s there for you and your family when you’ve literally run out of time. You’ll be happy to know the bulk of time needed for an estate plan (if you work with a professional…and you should) is thinking about, and communicating, what you want to happen with your assets upon passing. Who do you want to be your named as beneficiaries? Who do you want to serve as guardians to your kids?Also, you’ll need to consider carefully who you want to be your financial and health care agents in the case of disability.

(Note that such communicating can be easily done through a tool like my estate plan questionnaire.)

I don’t know where to start.

As excuses go, this has some validity, but is easily quashed with a few tools that are available to everyone for free. First, read my post on all the basics of estate planning to get familiar with the six key documents. Second, fill out my free, no-obligation estate plan questionnaire. Truly, estate planning (at least my process), is just five easy steps from start to finish.

It’s too expensive to make an estate plan.

There’s no one-size-fits-all for estate plans. Therefore, costs will depend on your estate’s size, complexity, and your goals. I’ll be completely clear on the exact costs up front, and that’s a guarantee. This is a major reason why filling out the estate plan questionnaire is such an important first step. Through your completed questionnaire, I can tell what you need, make a recommendation, and give you an exact price.

Keep in mind that it will almost certainly be more expensive for your family and loved ones if you die intestate (without a will). It will not only cost them monetarily, but also, much worse, emotionally as well, the process can be shockingly slow, tedious, and create unnecessary conflict.

man writing down ides in notebook

Organize your digital asset information.

Think of all the information pertinent to your personal and professional life and finances that you have on your computer. Think of all the important data that’s held entirely in online accounts. Often things like your email accounts, online banking, and storage accounts, for example, are referred to as digital assets. Access to these digital assets will be important for your chosen executor or trustee to handle and settle your estate. A solid estate plan will account for these digital assets and specify who you want to have access to all this data information in order to transfer/settle/close accounts appropriately. Additionally, you’ll want to have a separate, secure document or account (like LastPass, for instance) that which lists your all accounts and their login information.

Be Resolute with Revisions

If you already have an estate plan, do a happy dance! You are way ahead of about 60% of the population, which doesn’t even have a basic will (or trust) in place.

While estate plans never expire, they do need to be updated and kept current. If you have a major life event, it may well warrant revisiting your estate plan.  Such life events include marriage or divorce, if you establish residency in a new state, the birth of a child, the loss of one of your beneficiaries/executors, or if your financial situation changes significantly.

Speaking of change, remember too that state and federal laws are perpetually changing and when certain rules change, so too must your estate plan. Case in point? The “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017,” AKA the new GOP tax bill. For instance, the changes to the federal transfer tax exemptions could impact decisions as to if a certain type of trust is applicable. Again, this is where an experienced professional estate planner, whose job it is to stay up on these policy changes so you don’t have to, is beneficial.

Check your Marks

The Gordon Fischer Law Firm Ultimate Estate Planning Checklist makes it easy to visualize your completion rate of all the important documents and related tasks. It’s an easy to read, handy dandy cheat sheet of items to accomplish to get you from zero to superhero in no time.

Ultimate Estate Planning Checklist

Plan for an Impact

There are a multitude of ways to practice impactful charitable giving. One incredibly easy way is to name charities near and dear to your heart as beneficiaries in your estate plan. The resolution here? Think about what charities you would like to give to, how much (a figure or percentage), and, if you already have an estate plan, review it. If it doesn’t include your chosen charities, it’s time for an update!

Transform Talk into Trust

When making estate planning decisions it’s important to discuss said decisions with your family (and others included in the plan). Communicating in advance and ensuring your loved ones fully understand the “what” and “why” means there’s a significantly better chance your wishes will be respected and executed fully as you intended. The worst-case scenario in estate planning is litigation over what the deceased (or critically disabled) individual wanted. For instance, if you have an end-stage medical condition, the last thing you want is family fighting over your health care power of attorney or living will. These conversations can be challenging, but ultimately should be conducive to a peaceful transition of assets, reduction of tension between beneficiaries, and a clear understanding of what was communicated and recorded.

talking over coffee

Creating an estate plan that achieves your goals is a resolution you can DEFINITELY keep this year (even if that low-carb diet resolution doesn’t quite make it past January). The time it takes is nothing in comparison to the time it will save your loved ones. Ditto, dollars! Plus, the peace of mind that comes with knowing your affairs are in order if something were to happen is invaluable. This is your year to be prepared. Let’s get started. Contact me at any time via email (gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com) or phone (515-371-6077) and in the meantime fill out the Estate Plan Questionnaire.

fireworks with man reaching up to the sky

The talk around New Year’s resolutions tends to focus on personal goals, like getting in better shape, traveling more, reading more, going to bed at a regular time every night, eat less chocolate…the list goes on. But frankly, most of those great January 1 intentions fall by the wayside around Valentine’s Day (and for me, usually even earlier!). But, resolutions don’t just have to focus on the personal—what about the professional?

Professional resolutions are promising because they involve the accountability, inputs, and outputs of more than just yourself. Your entire network of employees, volunteers, and/or donors can help the resolutions become a reality. For nonprofit professionals and leaders, now is the perfect time to set actionable goals that can help further your organization’s mission, progress, and fundraising. Here are a five ideas to get you started:

Optimize policies and procedures

Both internal and external policies will guide your organization and set standards. These policies should cover certain legal issues including, but certainly not limited to, conflicts of interest, investments, document retention, whistleblower protection, gift acceptance, and endowments. Your organization is always evolving and so should your policies. If your nonprofit is new, you’ll want airtight legal policies in place from the start. (For example, do you have appropriate disclaimers in the employee handbook, so it’s not considered an employment contract?) If your policies have been in place for a while, should you make an annual overview part of your standard operations? Pay attention to provisions that should be added/edited due to government and tax law changes.

https://gflf-prod.illuminateddev.net/nonprofit-policy-special-10-form-990/

Best board ever

Make this the year of the most efficient, effective board ever. Invest in educating and training the board of directors on issues that impact your industry and the nonprofit sector in general. Prepare your board with materials that will set them up for success such as an updated, comprehensive board handbook.

This is also a good place for a reminder to connect and leverage your board members’ experience, connections, and talents. Consider, when was the last time you had a one-on-one conversation with a board member outside of the monthly board meeting? Inviting a board member to lunch or coffee is a good opportunity to ask for valuable ideas on the organization and fundraising. Plus, taking the time to connect as individuals actively shows the board member you care for thier connection and investment in the organization.

https://gflf-prod.illuminateddev.net/nonprofit-board-collective-responsibilities/

Excellent ethics

Let this be the year that you put ethics in operations above all. Does your entity have a conflict of interest policy in place? Does it need to be updated? Are there any areas for potential ethical infractions? Make a point to address these BEFORE they become an issue. Provide ethics training to your stewards—board members, employees, volunteers—so that everyone is on the same page of standards.  

Perfected planned giving

Managing planned giving programs is an art in the practice of effectiveness. And, as you may already know, such a giving program is a beneficial investment in future financial well-being; it takes significant time to construct and even more time to see results. From charitable gift annuities to even simple bequest programs, it’s likely that your planned giving program can be better organized and publicized to prospective donors. Review the readiness of your organization’s ability to accept a planned gift or endowment. Don’t be afraid to enlist an external auditor for improvements and legitimate practices.

Volunteer regularly

As a nonprofit leader you’re dealing with the administrative details of development, human resources, and budgeting. Unfortunately when you’re in the management weeds, you may not have much time to be on the ground executing programs. Make a commitment to volunteer with the organization at regular intervals. It will remind you of the all-important “why” behind the dollars, and will enable you to better communicate this to board members, donors, volunteers, and other stakeholders. Better yet, encourage other employees at your organization to join you or set up a calendar of consistent volunteer slots.

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As I mentioned, these are just a few ideas to get you started. What resolutions can YOU and your organization’s board members, donors, volunteers, and other stakeholders imagine? Perhaps you should set some time aside for everyone to think about priorities moving forward into the new year. In any case, I’d truly love to hear from you about any and all resolutions you and your fave nonprofit have made!

Working with nonprofit leaders in Iowa is one of the best aspects of my job. The opportunity to help people achieve their goals for the cause or issue they care deeply about, is perpetually awe-inspiring. I believe that nonprofit leaders should focus on what’s most important—the mission and communities their organization serves—and I’m here to help with the necessary legal matters that come with nonprofit operation, like personnel contracts, internal and external policies and procedures, record-keeping requirements, and maintaining compliance with all local, state, and federal laws. Of course, don’t forget the complexities surrounding legal and sustainable fundraising.

I’m looking forward to helping you meet your nonprofit’s resolutions this year; please don’t hesitate to contact me.