Posts

Did anyone sit in the very back row of their high school calculus class, slumped over, the brim of their baseball cap lowered, hoping to become invisible? I’m asking for a friend, of course. The chalk marks on the board—a series of numbers—may as well have been Mandarin Chinese to me. The teacher was no help, he spit numbers faster than a rapper and made less sense than the chalk marks. My “friend” understood nothing, but somehow passed by the skin of his teeth. Law school was suddenly a sure destination (or, really, any school without math).

Back to school

Even Worse: College Math!

However, you needed an undergraduate degree before law school. (Ok…we’re talking about me, not my friend.) Thanks to the aforementioned miracle of passing calculus, my major at Iowa only required one math for graduation, at least at the time. That class was 22M-One, which was literally known on campus as 22M-Dumb. Still, I had to take the class twice. During the first try, halfway through the final exam, my friend got up, left his paper, and simply walked out. He knew he would flunk, so why torture himself or waste anyone else’s time? He barely passed the second time, and only did so after extensive tutoring.

Just curious, anyone have “math phobia” as bad as young me? This school daze story has a happy ending though. Eventually I got past my major fear of math and was able to master the rules of math, especially as they relate to estate planning.

This Math Makes Sense

I know someone in your life (probably an engineer or actuary) has undoubtedly told you that math is fun and easy. But, when it comes to the IRA Charitable Rollover (AKA qualified charitable distribution (QCD)), this small bit of math really is!

You only need to remember six numbers:

  • 70.5 (years)
  • $100,000
  • 1 (as in one plan)
  • Zero (as in taxes owed if you do this right)
  • Zero again (as in, zero gifts in return);
  • 100% (every time I write about the IRA Charitable Rollover, I always get a certain response).

70.5 years of age

There are two threshold requirements to take advantage of a special provision known as the IRA Charitable Rollover. The first is that to be eligible you must be 70.5 years of age or older. An important nuance to note is the required annual distribution is based on the year the participant reaches age 70.5, not the day they reach that age.

The second threshold requirement is the IRA Charitable Rollover applies to IRAs only. Under the law, charitable gifts can only be made from traditional IRAs or Roth IRAs. The IRA Charitable Rollover does not apply to 403(b) plans, 401(k) plans, pension plans, and other retirement benefit plans. (I’ll discuss another great option, however, for these other retirement benefit plans, so be sure to read to the end of this blog post).

equation on a chalkboard

$100,000

Sure, living to 70.5 is great in itself, but it’s also the age where IRA Charitable Rollover allows individuals to donate up to $100,000 from their IRAs directly to charity, without having to count the distributions as taxable income.

One Plan

A donor’s total combined charitable IRA rollover contributions cannot exceed $100,000 in any one year. The limit is per IRA owner, not per individual IRA account. Also, this amount is not portable (i.e., sharable) between spouses.

Zero (as in Zero Taxes)

The IRA Charitable Rollover permits taxpayers to make donations directly to charitable organizations from their IRAs without counting this money as part of their adjusted gross income (AGI). Consequently, this means not paying any taxes on them. You read that correctly: folks who are 70.5 years or older are able to transfer donations from their IRA directly to charity, up to $100,000, with ZERO taxes on that money!

What charities/nonprofits are eligible to receive the donation(s)?

Charitable contributions from an IRA must go directly to a qualified public charity. Contributions to donor advised funds and private foundations, except in certain (narrow) circumstances, do not qualify for tax-free IRA rollover contributions.

Allow me to emphasize the gift must go directly to the charity. A donor cannot withdraw the money, and then give it to charity. Rather, the IRA administrator must send the donation straight to the charity.

Zero (as in gifts/services back from charity)

Donors cannot receive any goods or services in return for IRA Charitable Rollover amounts in order to qualify for tax-free treatment. As one philanthropist explained, “Why would you want to (potentially) mess up a $100,000 tax-free donation by getting a $25 tote bag?” No matter how good the bag looks, it’s not worth that!

70.5 years of age and IRAs only

Once again, to be eligible you must be 70.5 years or older. Also, qualifying gifts can only be made from traditional IRAs or Roth IRAs. Charitable donations from 403(b) plans, 401(k) plans, pension plans, and other retirement plans are not covered by the IRA Charitable Rollover law.

100%

Every time I write about the IRA Charitable Rollover, I receive communication from someone saying that life sucks because they don’t qualify for the Rollover. They aren’t 70.5 years old, or they have a different retirement benefit plan than an IRA, or both.

But, here’s the thing, anyone can still use their retirement benefit plan(s) to help their favorite charities.

Magic of Beneficiary Designations

No matter what your age, or what your type of retirement benefit plan (IRA, 401(k), 403(b), etc.), there is a super easy way for you to help your favorite charity. Simply contact the account holder and name your favorite nonprofit as beneficiary! This is so simple. No lawyer or drafting of legal documents is required—the owner of the retirement benefit plan simply has to direct the account holder to change the beneficiary. There are also no taxes with this charitable giving approach because, frankly, when the donation passes to the charity it’s because you’re dead. No taxes for the nonprofit either; as a qualified nonprofit, they don’t pay taxes on donations.

Note that if the account owner is married, the spouse should be informed and may need to consent to the designation. And, please follow up with the account holder to make sure the account holder received your request and made the beneficiary changes properly in full.

Want to work through how the IRA Charitable Rollover math fits in with your planned giving goals and current/future tax strategy? Reach out to me anytime. I offer a free, no obligation one-hour consultation. You can contact me by email (gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com) or on my cell (515-371-6077).

two hands with wedding rings

Asking if your current spouse of many years can disinherit you is a question I hope you never have to ask. But, it’s an interesting query to say the least, and the answer may astound and amaze you.

It’s super uncomfortable, even for an estate planner like me, to think about my wife leaving me out of her estate plan, let alone her passing away. So, I’m going to use a hypothetical example.

Mr and Mrs sign

Scenario: John, Mary, and the Lover

Let’s say John and Mary are legally married. One sad day, Mary has a massive heart attack and dies. John is shocked to discover that Mary had a valid will he knew nothing about. Far worse, Mary specifically disowned John, said John should get absolutely nothing, and instead Mary left her entire estate to her paramour (aka lover); someone John knew nothing about!

Wow, ice cold, Mary, ice cold.

What result? I’ll give you four options, pick which you think is most correct.

  1. The “manstress” gets everything, John gets nothing.
  2. John gets everything; the lover gets nothing.
  3. The lover gets everything, but only after a lengthy, awkward, and hard-fought court battle.
  4. The lover gets some of the estate, but so does John.

Have you picked?

Answer “D” is most correct, at least under Iowa law.

You see, under Iowa law, a spouse cannot completely disinherit another spouse (assuming they have a valid marriage and they are married at the time of the first spouse’s death).

Elective Share Law

Iowa has an “elective share” law. (You can read the specific Iowa Code Section here if you’re curious. The citation is Iowa Code § 633.237).

In Iowa, a surviving spouse chooses between inheritance under a will OR elective share in the deceased spouse’s estate. Until the surviving spouse files an affidavit for claiming elective share, it will be presumed that the surviving spouse will take the inheritance under the will.

In Iowa, the elective share of the surviving spouse comprises of all of the exempt personal property and 1/3 of the value of all real estate, after the debts have been paid off and 1/3 of whatever is remaining of personal property. The surviving spouse may occupy the homestead in lieu of taking the 1/3 share of real estate of the deceased spouse.

So, Can My Spouse, Disinherit Me?

Bottom line, my wonderful wife, Monica, cannot disinherit me so long as we are legally married. Even if she (or her lawyer) writes a will that states I should get not one single penny from her estate no matter what, I would still have the option of choosing an elective share. Obviously, in this case, just like in John and Mary’s situation, the decision will be an exceedingly easy one. The will give me zero, zilch, nada, nothing—of course I am going with the elective share option.

Gordon and Monica wedding day

This is Monica & I on our wedding day!

But you know what? The elective share is a narrow exception that proves the general rule. By that, I mean the following: one of the great reasons to do proper estate planning, is that you can give what you want, to whom you want, how you want, when you want. (And if you do NOT do proper estate planning, well, then, you leave it up to the Iowa Legislature and Iowa Courts to dispose of your property).

Again, it bears repeating: estate planning allows to give what you want, to whom you want, how you want, when you want. On top of accounting for your loved one in you estate plan, you also have the wonderful opportunity to help the cause or causes that you are most passionate about through charitable bequests in your will.

Want more on this subject? Check out this Facebook live video of me explaining this “in person.”

Have more questions about you will and estate planning? Maybe how you and your spouse can achieve your collective and individual goals? How about avoiding conflicts of interest? I offer everyone a free one-hour consultation. You can reach me anytime through email at gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com or call my cell at 515-371-6077. I’d truly love to hear from you!

headphones and pink flowers

Speaking of the most romantic holiday of the year, I’ve really LOVED writing the #PlanningForLove series in the lead up to Valentine’s Day this year. We’ve been able to cover some super important aspects of an estate plan and how, oddly enough, estate planning is one of the ultimate expressions of love.

I have no doubts that after reading posts on how you can show love to your spouse, pets, and even yourself through estate planning you are ready to take the first step and fill out my (free) Estate Plan Questionnaire. Thinking about your estate’s executor, beneficiaries, and charitable bequests can only be made better with a special Gordon Fischer Law Firm Valentine’s playlist. (You can also check out my other estate planning-inspired playlist while you’re at it!)

What are your favorite love songs of all time I should add to this playlist? Let me know in the comments below. (Also, I apologize if “My Heart Will Go On” is now stuck in your head.) Want to discuss your estate planning options? Don’t hesitate to contact me via email or phone (515-371-6077).

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.) “Common law” is a term often used in the law and can have a wide variety of meanings depending on the context.

In this case, “common law” is simply a term used to determine the ownership of property acquired during marriage. 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!

Estate planning is all about strategy—leaving the right assets and inheritances to the right beneficiaries; timely distributions of the estate; and avoiding as many taxes and fees as possible. Another strategic move is deciding whether you and your spouse should use the same lawyer, or whether you should each have your own lawyer.

If you are married, please note you have the option of hiring separate attorneys for your estate planning needs.

Though the goals of most married persons are the same when it comes to wills, trusts, and estate planning, some married individuals (especially individuals who have children from prior marriages) have differing views on the ownership of property and beneficiaries, and naming executors, trustees, and guardians. Likewise, some married individuals have private information they do not wish to share with their spouse — information that may be essential to the estate planning process that would have to be disclosed to the attorney and, therefore, disclosed to the spouse if I am representing both spouses. Additionally, sometimes married individuals have “awkward” questions they wish to ask the attorney — questions they would not be comfortable asking in the presence of their spouse, such as how a divorce might affect their estate plan.

By obtaining separate attorneys, you would be able to: (1) share in confidence any secrets or private information with your attorney that may be important to the estate planning process; (2) ask in confidence whatever questions you may have; and (3) receive completely confidential advice and counsel. If represented jointly, you will be waiving and losing all three of the above rights with respect to your spouse.

If you decide to obtain separate attorneys, this firm would be pleased to represent either one of you separately. If you are married and decide you would like this firm to represent both of you, then complete this Estate Plan Questionnaire form jointly (please do not fill out two separate forms).

Joint Representation

Two brides in white wedding dresses

For many married couples, joint representation is a likely choice. 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.

It’s important for your lawyer to avoid conflicts of interest, so they can uphold and respect your attorney-client privilege. If you choose to have joint representation you may waive the conflict of interest clause so that you may be represented together. Or, of course, you can seek separate legal counsel and not sign such a clause.

This communication is critical if you opt for joint representation. Without it, disaster can strike mid-meeting with the lawyer if couples disagree about which child is most responsible in terms of estate execution or how much of a trust fund each beneficiary should receive at age 18.

Individual Representation

couple holding hands in green space

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.


Have questions? Need more information? A great place to start is by downloading my Estate Plan Questionnaire, or feel free to reach out at any time; my email is Gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com and cell phone is 515-371-6077. 

Marriage document

In Iowa, Spouses Can’t Disinherit Spouses

Can Monica, my wife, disinherit me? In a word, no.

Assuming a valid marriage in Iowa, a spouse cannot disinherit a spouse. Even if a spouse wants to do so, even if that’s the spouse’s true intent—nope.

What If…?

What if in a legal will, the first-to-die spouse includes the following clause:

“I acknowledge that I have a spouse, named Gordon Fischer, who is not provided for in this will. It is my specific intention to not provide for my spouse Gordon Fischer under the terms of my will.”

Even with a clear clause like this, I, Gordon, am not disinherited. Why is this so?

Statutory “Forced Share”

Iowa Seal

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.

Oral Agreement to Disinherit

What if Monica and I talk about this matter and come to an oral agreement. Something like this:

Monica: I want to disinherit you. Should you be the surviving spouse, you should get nothing.

Gordon: Wow. That hurts. But if that’s what you want honey, I agree.

Is this agreement enforceable? No, for several reasons. First, it’s not written and oral agreements are generally unenforceable. Also, it doesn’t and can’t displace the plain language of an Iowa statue which allows a spouse to elect a forced share against the will, and gain one-third of the estate. You can’t orally agree to ignore a statute’s clear intent!

Written Agreement to Disinherit

But what if Monica asked me to agree, in writing, to not take a spousal share? Say, we write up a formal contract stating I’m essentially not getting anything under Monica’s will, no how, no way. I also agree in the contract that under no circumstances will I take a statutory share.

Would such a written contract be enforceable? No.

While Iowans have a great deal of freedom to contract, just like the above oral agreement example, you can’t contract in direct opposition to a clear statute.

Postnuptial Agreements

Also, interestingly, Iowa courts have ruled postnuptial agreements are not enforceable.

Married penguin cake toppers

Postnuptial agreements are written contracts between spouses that are executed after the couple has married (as opposed to the prenuptial agreements you usually hear about). Iowa courts have struck down postnuptial agreements for nearly a century, since 1912 when the Iowa Supreme Court first found postnuptial agreements to be of no validity. In re Kennedy’s Estate, 135 N.W. 53 (Iowa 1912).

But Monica, it’s OK. Very likely you’ll be the surviving spouse anyway.


Beyond just your spouse, it’s important to have an updated estate plan to define all of your beneficiaries and wishes for your estate following your death. Have questions or need more information? Feel free to reach out any time. You can contact me by email at Gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com or give me a call at 515-371-6077.