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four faces covered by health masks

Consequences from COVID-19 including skyrocketing unemployment, mental health concerns, and general basic supply scarcity has meant an increased demand for services from nonprofits in a multitude of sectors. I’ve seen a number of successful efforts to help out local businesses, such as restaurants and shops, that are hurting from lack of foot traffic. These campaigns have focused on alternative revenue streams such as delivery deals and gift cards. The same concept can and should go be applied to your favorite nonprofit organizations as well.

Here are three ways you can help nonprofits while continuing to practice safe social distancing.

Donate cash under the CARES Act

The federal “Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security” (CARES) Act was recently passed and among other policy goals, aims to incentivize charitable giving. The CARES Act creates a new federal income tax charitable deduction for total charitable contributions of up to $300. The incentive applies to cash contributions made in 2020 and can be claimed on tax forms next year. This deduction is an “above-the-line” deduction. This means it’s a deduction that applies to all taxpayers, regardless if they elect to itemize.

For those taxpayers who do itemize, the law lifts the existing cap on annual contributions from 60 to 100 percent of adjusted gross income. For corporations, the law raises the annual contributions limit from 10 to 25 percent. Likewise, the cap on corporate food donations has increased from 15 to 25 percent.

Protect yourself from coronavirus

Photo by Obi Onyeador on Unsplash

Gift retirement benefit plans

If you have a retirement benefit plan, like an IRA or 401(k), you may gift the entire plan, or just a percentage, to your favorite charity or charities upon your death. Retirement plans can be an ideal asset donation to a nonprofit organization because of the tax burden the plans may carry if paid to non-charitable beneficiaries, such as family members.

This can be accomplished by fully completing a beneficiary designation form from the account holder and name the intended nonprofit organization(s) as a beneficiary of your qualified plan. The funds you designate to charitable organizations will be distributed directly to the organizations tax-free and will pass outside of your estate, Individuals who elect this type of charitable giving can continue to make withdrawals from retirement plans during their lifetime.

Write in bequests to your estate plan

Execute an estate plan, or update an existing one, to include bequests (gifts) to the nonprofit organizations you care about. There are multiple different types of bequests which means testators have flexibility with the structure of their estate plans. An experienced estate planner will be able to advise you on all of your options, but here is a brief overview.

Pecuniary bequest

A gift of a fixed or stated sum of money designated in a donor’s will or trust.

Demonstrative bequest

A gift that comes from an explicit source such as a particular bank account.

Percentage bequest

A percentage bequest devises a set percentage—for example 5 percent of the value of the estate. A percentage bequest may be the best format for charitable bequest since it lets the charity benefit from any estate growth during the donor’s lifetime.

Specific bequest

A gift of a designated or specific item (like real estate, a vehicle, or artwork) in the will or trust. The item will very likely be sold by the nonprofit and the proceeds would benefit that nonprofit.

Residuary bequest

A gift of all or a portion of the remainder of the donor’s assets after all other bequests have been made as well as debts and taxes paid.

Contingent bequest

A gift made on the condition of a certain event that might or might not happen. A contingent bequest is specific and fails if the condition is not made. An example of a charitable contingent bequest might be if a certain person predeceases you,

This is just a small list, as there are many ways to efficiently and effectively make charitable donations in a tax-wise manner that benefits both parties involved. Because each individual’s financial situation is unique it’s highly recommended to consult with the appropriate professional advisors.

I’d be happy to discuss any questions, concerns, or ideas you may have. Contact me via email at gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com or by phone at 515-371-6077.

Someone pointing into the sunset

Estate planning allows people to elect tools and strategies that makes life for their loved ones as uncomplicated as possible following death. Almost everyone I work with wants to ensure their family members are set up for success.

Dad holding daughter

One such estate planning tool to accomplish this is the handy dandy trust. There are almost limitless different types of trusts; trusts may be classified by their purpose, duration, creation method, or by the nature of the trust property. For instance, there is the fairly common “animal care” or “pet” trust. You can also place almost any asset imaginable in a trust.

For some parents looking to help a son or daughter (minor or adult) with special needs, a trust can be a powerful avenue to continuing to support the loved one. (In this trust situation the child would be the beneficiary of the trust, the parents would be the settlor, and a trustee would be assigned.) Why? In general, the idea is that a special needs trust can use estate assets to enrich and enhance the child’s life while maintaining the individual’s viability for enrollment in public benefits programs. Examples of assistance programs can include Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Medicaid, subsidized housing, and vocational rehabilitation, among others.

Specifics of Special Needs Trust

Smart estate planning for special needs ensures that the parts of the estate which pass on to the individual with special needs are NOT considered an “available asset” by the associated agencies that disperse essential benefits. Many people make the mistake of leaving assets to a loved one with a disability through a will. This is problematic because acquiring assets, such as a significant lump sum of money, can disqualify your loved one from certain government assistance programs. By setting up a special needs trust, instead of solely using a will, you can avoid these issues. How? Because the trustee has total control over the management of the funds, and the beneficiary does not, government program administrators, like the ones from SSI and Medicaid, don’t “count” the trust assets when considering eligibility.

Beyond protecting the beneficiary’s eligibility for public benefits a special needs trust can also:

  • offer assured lifelong money management for the child; and/or
  • establish a pool of available funds in the future event that public benefits should be restricted or revoked.

Careful Drafting Required

It’s important to remember that details of each special needs trust will vary depending on factors like the beneficiary’s age, competency, and familial situation. Also, because of the complexities involved, special needs trusts require extremely careful drafting. So, If you’re even considering establishing a special needs trust as a part of your estate plan, it’s definitely necessary to speak with an experienced estate planning professional to make sure all of the nuances of the trust are executed properly.

Don’t hesitate to contact me with questions via email (gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com) or on my cell phone at 515-371-6077.

woman in front of painting

If you’re growing an art collection it brings up an interesting situation: how do you incorporate your prized pieces 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 of pieces you inherited or a burgeoning 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

The 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 option, 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.

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 intact 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 the 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.

Sell

It goes without saying 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).

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 help determine what’s the best course of action 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 judgment. 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.

hammers and tools hanging in garage

Three Parties

I’ve previously written about the three parties necessary for every trust: (1) the settlor (sometimes called the donor or grantor); (2) the trustee; and (3) the beneficiary.

Two Other Elements

Besides three parties, at least two other elements are necessary for a valid trust.

  1. The trust instrument is the document that sets forth the terms of the trust.
  2. The other necessary element is property. After all, the trustee must be holding something for the benefit of the beneficiary.

Property of the Trust

When laypersons use the word “property,” I believe they usually mean real estate. But, lawyers use the term “property” much, much more broadly, to mean literally any transferable interest. Sometimes trust property is also referred to as the res or corpus or assets of the trust. (Bonus words!)

Any property can be held in trust. Seriously, check out this list of 101 assets that would fit in a trust. You could likely think of literally hundreds more types or categories of property to place in your own individual trust.

Pour Over Trust

How about an unfunded trust that will receive property at some point in the future? Can you even do that?

Yes, that can certainly be done. This is usually called a pour-over trust. (More bonus words!) The pour-over trust deserves its own blog post. Briefly, a pour-over trust is usually set up by language in a will. A will may validly devise property to a trust, established during the testator’s lifetime, and then funded at her death.

Example

Let’s take a very simple example. Kate has a lawyer write her will, including language that at her death all her Monster Truck memorabilia be placed in a trust for the benefit of her nieces and nephews. Only at Kate’s death will the property be transferred into the trust, not before.

Monster Truck

Take-Aways

The important points are that property is necessary, at some point, to make a trust valid, and that literally any transferable interest in property – anything! – can be held in a trust.

Let’s Talk Trusts

It can be difficult to determine on your own 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.

footballs on wall

Turn on ESPN, put on your jersey, and stock with fridge with a cold beverage…the College Football Playoff National Championship is this Monday, January 13, 2020. (The game kicks off at 8 p.m.) While reading up on the stats and predictions for a tiger showdown between the LSU Tigers and Clemson Tigers in New Orleans’ Mercedes-Benz Superdome, I couldn’t help but make a connection with estate planning. Goalposts to estate planning goals may seem like a stretch, but hear me out.

 

Football is a complex game—the field is full of moving parts and competing strategies; it’s a game of inches where just a few missteps or right moves can make a huge difference. Estate planning works the same way. Here are just five of the surprising similarities between estate planning and the game of football:

1. Your Clock Will Indeed Run Out

Just like every football season eventually comes to an end, your (hopefully long and healthy) season will also come to a close. When it does, you need a special kind of playbook for the rest of your team…AKA an estate plan. In this analogy, an experienced lawyer is a great coach who is going to help you put plans in place for when the game changes unexpectedly or the stadium lights turn off for the last time. And, just like so much can change over the course of a season, a lot will happen over the course of your lifetime. That’s where annual reviews and revisions after significant events fit in.

While it is often difficult for people to ponder their unavoidable exit off their own fictitious field, preparation for what happens after your season is over can be one of the most comforting aspects of financial and legal planning.

2. The Main Players

Let’s take this analogy a bit further and put some estate planning terms into football speak.

Estate – An estate is a whole playbook, containing the following documents: your will; health care power of attorney; financial power of attorney; disposition of personal property; and final disposition of remains. (Click on the link preview below to delve deeper.)

Will – A will deals primarily with the distribution of assets and care for minor children. You need to make certain the will is well-drafted, solid, and can stand up in court. Keep in mind though, important assets such as life insurance policy payouts, retirement assets, and investment accounts may well contain beneficiary designations that trump your will.

Trust – You have lots of different options with this player. A trust can dictate how your assets will be dispersed, the timeline and manner in which they are dispersed, and who’s overseeing the process.

3. You Must Make Mid-Season Starting Lineup Adjustments

Just as a coach may switch up who’s starting partway through the season, you may need to make adjustments to your estate plan as things inevitably change over the course of your life. Big events like marriage, birth of a child/grandchild, moving to a different state, a large change in financial status, divorce, and other significant changes are a good reason to review your “playbook.”

4. No ‘I’ in Team

Your loved ones and close friends are all a part of your team; part of being a strong team player is including them on the plays you’re making. Discuss important aspects of your estate plan with the people it involves to avoid any confusion or conflict when it comes times for them to carry out your wishes. For instance, if you have minor children (under age 18) you’re going to want to establish legal guardianship if the worst happens and you’re no longer around to care for them. You’ll want to discuss with your chosen guardians ahead of time to make sure they’re willing and available to carry out the responsibility.

5. Final Score

football on field

 

There are probably at least a few more good football analogies I could tie into the conversation of why you need an estate plan, but the most important takeaway is that you never know when the game is going to change. So, you need to have your “playbook” written out ASAP. The best place to start is with my free, no-obligation Estate Plan Questionnaire. You can also shoot me an email or give me a call at 515-371-6077 to discuss your situation (or football).

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 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. 

Checklist with coffee and croissant

It’s National Estate Planning Awareness Week! In an effort to break down the barriers, myths, and excuses surrounding estate planning, I’ve created this handy dandy ultimate estate planning checklist. It runs down just about everything you need in terms of a comprehensive, quality estate plan including the six major documents, reviewing beneficiary designations, considering if a trust is applicable to you, and discussing your estate plan with your loved ones.

Estate Planning Checklist GFLF

 

I would love to help you check these items off your list. If you want to get started, download my Estate Plan Questionnaire. Or, you can contact me to discuss your individual situation and what estate planning provisions make the most sense for you!

letter of instruction

When I prepare estate plans for my clients, they typically include six key documents. For more complex estates, the plan may also involve trust and/or business succession documents. However, to make estate planning as simple and the least chaotic for your loved ones tasked with fulfilling your wishes, I also recommend drafting another document: a letter of instruction.

What Exactly is a Letter of Instruction?

Think of a letter of instruction like an easy-to-read-and-understand summary shortcut for your estate plan’s executors and representatives. Its main purpose is to help guide the person(s) settling an estate through the process, step-by-step, in plain, clear language.  The letter can serve as a cheat sheet of sorts. It’s not legally required and certainly doesn’t take the place of a valid will, but it’s a meaningful nod to those you have tasked with handling your affairs.

Your letter of intent doesn’t have to go by any specific form or outline, so some people tend to use it as a way of giving personal instructions and giving details beyond what is articulated in your estate planning documents. A useful letter of intent can include the following information:

  • Location(s) of:
    • Important papers such as birth certificates, any divorce/marriage certificates, citizenship papers, etc.
    • Estate plan.
    • Titles and/or deeds to real estate and rental property.
    • Recent copies of all financial statements like tax returns and other potentially important legal documents.
    • Safety deposit boxes and the respective keys.
    • Tangible property that may not be readily accessible
  • Names, passwords, account numbers, and PIN numbers for financial accounts.
  • Social security number.
  • Contact information for:
  • Instructions for the care of any pets. (You may also want to establish an animal care trust.)

Regular Updates & Safe Storage

Like your other estate planning documents, the letter of instruction should be reviewed annually and updated as needed. Because the letter of intent includes confidential personal information it should be stored in a secure place that can also be accessible by your estate plan’s executor.

But First, an Estate Plan!

Before you go about drafting a letter of intent, it’s important to place a priority on executing an estate plan that helps you meet your goals and define your legacy. My free, no-obligation Estate Plan Questionnaire (the first of the six key estate planning documents) is a great place to get started. Otherwise, contact me by phone or email with any questions and to discuss which estate planning strategies may be best for you and your family.

Settlor (or Donor or Grantor)

The person who creates a trust is called the settlor (sometimes called the donor or grantor). It is the settlor’s intent which is of paramount importance. It is the intent of the settlor that determines whether a trust has been created.

Here’s a great read with a rundown on the basics of what a trust is:

Intent Is Everything

If a settlor transfers property to a recipient with the intent that the recipient hold the property for someone else, then a trust has indeed been created. If the settlor transfers property with the intent that the recipient use the property for her own benefit, then NO trust has been created.

BONUS WORD! Precatory Trust

What if a settlor transfers property to a recipient with just a wish that the recipient use the property for the benefit of someone else, but does not impose any legal obligation? In such a situation, no legal trust is created. Instead, this is called a precatory trust, but is not a trust at all, because the settlor placed no legal responsibilities on the recipient. A precatory trust is, again, not a trust and is not governed by the law of trusts.

Three Easy Hypotheticals

  • Let’s look at three quick examples to make this clear. Mack gives stock to Julie. Mack intends that the stock be for Julie’s own use. Mack is NOT the settlor of a trust, because no trust has been created.

Stock market sheet

  • Grace gives a vacation house to Maddie, intending that Maddie hold the house for the benefit of Zach. Grace is the settlor of a trust. If a settlor transfers property to a recipient with the intent the recipient holds the property for the benefit of someone else, then a trust is created.

vacation home on lake

  • Thomas gives a coin collection to Parker, just wishing that Parker would hold the coins for Danna. This is a mere precatory trust, not a trust at all because the settlor is not imposing any legal responsibilities on the recipient.

coin collection

Questions? Let’s Talk.

When it comes to estate planning, I’m all about breaking down the legalese barriers. This hopefully clarified the definition of settlor, but you may have questions…which is great! Contact me to discuss further the status of your estate plan and decisions regarding your trust. Reach me by email at gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com or phone at 515-371-6077.