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I’ll never forget that night. Several months ago, a simple notification popped up on my Twitter account. Very rarely have five words caused me such joy: “Soledad O’Brien is following you.”

I was social media starstruck!

Sure, I know that this was likely the doing of a digital tool that auto-follows accounts that tweet about certain subjects. Or, maybe it was one of the social media interns who saw my retweets of @soledadobrien and decided to throw me a follow as a fan. Since she follows 447k accounts I have no doubt that the impressive individual herself didn’t actually follow me…but hey, we all like to feel liked and heard even if it’s a digital facade.

To understand why this was such a Big Hairy Audacious Deal (if you got the reference to Jim Collins’ concept, applause!), let me put this into context of my small, “local” Twitter account and Ms. O’Brien’s worldwide acclaim.

A Lonely 440+

My Twitter account has merely around 440 followers (at the time of publication). I put out great content, and it’s growing slowly and surely, but would love for more people to join the party. (In fact, if you’re reading this and haven’t followed @FischerGordon yet, check out all the great info I share on estate planning, nonprofit formation and compliance, and charitable giving on top of Iowa-centric news and all around interesting factoids.) But, let’s be honest I have a long way to go to catch up to the likes of the Big Ben clock that simply tweets “bong” in various quantities and the San Francisco fog, apparently named Karl.

Soledad is Superb

In contrast to my lowly follower count, @soledadobrien has a well-deserved follower count at 809k and counting. For those few of you who are unaware, Soledad O’Brien is a world-famous broadcast journalist renowned for her roles as anchor and correspondent for MSNBC, CNN, HBO, and Al Jazeera America. She has been a tremendously well respected presence in broadcast news since 1991. She has covered so many huge stories I can’t possibly list them all. Countless times she’s been on “best of” lists and she’s won a Peabody Award and four Emmy Awards.

Presently, Ms. O’Brien is the host of Matter of Fact with Soledad O’Brien, a show focusing on politics and socioeconomic concerns produced by her very own multi-platform Starfish Media Group.

Newsworthy Nonpxrofit Policy Special Worthy of O’Brien’s Reporting

I would regularly check to see if Soledad O’Brien ever unfollowed me. Maybe the social media software algorithm wised up or the social media intern was tasked with clearing out the followings of accounts with sub-500 followers. But, my coolest follower (sorry everyone else!) is still there! This fact has, of course, let me to the inevitable conclusion: O’Brien must want me on her show! Why else would she follow an attorney who’s on a mission to maximize charitable giving in Iowa?

Why would she want me on her show at all? I’m biased, but I think the 10 for 990 nonprofit policy special (available through March 15) is certainly newsworthy! While not a political scoop, the 10 for 990 deal could benefit (Iowa) nonprofits working toward the betterment of socioeconomic issues and/or advocating for increased engagement in American democracy.

A journalist of O’Brien’s caliber would need some more details before she ever agreed to have me on as a guest. As such, the 10 for 990 offer provides nonprofits the ten policies discussed on the IRS’ Form 990 for the flat fee of only $990. (IRS Form 990 is the tax form nonprofits must complete once they’ve reached a certain monetary threshold. Just like individuals have to fill out a personal income tax form). The 10 policies asked about on the Form 990 include conflict of interest, document retention and destruction, whistleblower, compensation, fundraising, gift acceptance, financial policies and procedures, and investment.

If Ms. O’Brien were to ever interview me on this truly fantastic deal, I would share the benefits of having a qualified attorney craft these important policies and explain the collective responsibilities of nonprofit boards.

Even if you’re not an award-winning journalist turned CEO, I would love to talk to you about this policy special. Because Form 990 is typically due in May, now is the perfect time to get ahead on compliance. Nonprofit executives, board members, and even engaged volunteers should contact me via email or phone (515-371-6077) to learn how this could fit in with your organization’s goals.

wall street sign

A less-than-obvious, but ideal asset for charitable giving is appreciated, long-term, publicly traded stock. The merits of this giving tool are numerous, but there are some questions I hear from donors considering this options. For instance, when do you assess the value of a stock donation—before the donation, during, or after? And, how do you determine a specific dollar value on an asset that’s perpetually fluctuating?

Simple Stock Equation

math equation on chalk board

Forget stock charts or complicated formulas, there’s a simple solution. The value of a gift of publicly traded stock is the mean average of the high and low prices on the date of the gift.

For example, Jill Donor gifted 100 shares of Twitter stock to her favorite charity. On the date of Donor’s gift, the high was $25 per share and the low was $23 per share. In this case, the value of a share for charitable deduction purposes would be $23.50 ($25 + $22 divided by 2). The charitable deduction value of Donor’s gift would be $2,350 ($23.50 per share x 100 shares).

Any subsequent sales price, or current valuation (if the charity retains the stock), is irrelevant for valuing publicly traded stock and determining a donor’s charitable deduction. Again, only one factor matters: the average of the high and low selling price of the stock on the date of the gift! Of course, this equation doesn’t account for changes in the stock market in terms of what day would be better to donate over another. For that you’ll need to talk to your financial professional advisor or watch the trends to donate on a date with preferred value.


If you’re interested in gifting stock to a qualified charity, ensure you’re doing so in a way that maximizes all of your financial benefits and contact me for a free consult. Or, if you’re a nonprofit leader wanting to accept gifts of stocks but are unsure of how to facilitate, don’t hesitate to reach out via email or phone (515-371-6077).

How many times during the day, without even thinking about it, do you use a digital account? Twenty? Fifty? More? Think about it, within the space of just a few minutes you’ll login to your work email, post to your Facebook account, upload files to Dropbox, and check your credit card statement from your banking app. There’s no doubt digital accounts are a regular part of the hum of daily life. A huge amount of your personal and financial information is not only held online, it’s held entirely online, and nowhere else.

Fingernails on a Macbook

Just as dying without a will can cause grave stress and even anguish to your loved ones, dying without passing along information and instructions on your digital accounts can cause major headaches. Considering that you may well have dozens or even a hundred different digital accounts, this represents a huge challenge to your executor.

Defined broadly as any multimedia, website login, online account, hardware, and/or software — your digital assets can quickly accumulate and represent a vast amount of information, both personal and professional. (Digital assets encompasses tools for both personal or professional use).

Anything from your Facebook business page to your Paypal account is counted as a digital asset. When you pass away, these accounts will (presumably) need to be accessed by your executor. Which is weird, when you think about it, considering all the time we spend on anti-virus software, reporting spam, and avoiding hacks of our online selves. These accounts will need to be used totaling up all your assets and finalizing your affairs. Your online bank or credit union records will be used for the former. Shutting down your social media profiles will be part of the latter. In any case, an executor needs access.

The law and the online world have had a rocky relationship thus far. There are so many competing principles, including privacy, ownership interests, ability of companies to freely contract with customers, and a probate code that in many ways is more attuned to the 1800s than the 2000s. These clashing concepts means we only now are beginning to codify solutions to the online world issues and problems.

For example, how should the law handle terms-of-service agreements, after one party to the agreement has died? You remember that little box you check every time you update your computer or get a new account. All that small print includes terms-of-service agreements to which you agreed. These agreements, in addition to state and federal privacy laws, forbid unauthorized access to digital accounts.

social media on iphone

Enter the 2015 Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act. (Try saying that five times fast!) This statute’s title is legal speak for, “Here’s what you do with someone’s digital accounts like email and social profiles and financial institution accounts after they die.” It provides (relatively clear) rules so an executor can effectively manage a decedent’s digital accounts without violating any laws (like the terms-of-service agreements).

Iowa is one of the majority of states which enacted the Digital Assets Act, but only recently. Governor Branstad signed Senate File 333, the Iowa Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act, on April 20, 2017.

The Digital Assets Act gives you the power to plan for the management and disposition of your digital assets in similar ways to your planning for disposition of tangible property. In case of conflicting instructions, the Digital Assets Act provides a three-tiered system of priorities:

Tier One

Just like a beneficiary on an account trumps what’s written in a will, if a service provider like Google offers a mechanism for the account holder to outline their wishes post-mortem, then that tool is used as the primary instruction. Note that other tools, like Twitter, have a specific policy involving steps like submission of a death certificate by an authorized representative. But, if a digital service offers you the option to set what happens upon your passing—who should be notified or has access to the account—use it.

social media buttons

Tier Two

If an online account doesn’t offer any sort of contingency plan, then put directions for digital assets in your will, and in your powers of attorney, and in trust agreements, if applicable. If nothing’s specified with the service provider, then directions in an estate plan are the next, best clear intention. Don’t rely on general definitions of the executor’s powers, or what “assets” mean, to wrongly assume these cover your digital assets. A written statement(s) ideally gives your executor equal access to what you had during life. Considering you could have dozens or even hundreds of online accounts, include an overarching, general statement that includes any account owned by the decedent. Consider using specific instructions for intentions on particular accounts.

You should include these instructions in your estate planning documents even if you’ve designated an account executor with the service provider . . .  it doubles down on your wishes.

Tier Three

If digital assets aren’t accounted for by a service provider tool or in an estate plan, then the determination of how the assets may be dealt with falls to the dreaded service agreement. Such agreements typically prohibit anyone accessing the account aside from the owner.

finance on phone with laptop in background

Easy Steps to Take

Beyond knowing these three tiers of the Digital Assets Act, there are a few (relatively) easy steps you can take to ensure your digital assets are both accessible and accounted for:

  1. Consider a password manager like LastPass. With this tool there’s one password to login and then the executor could see all the sites you use regularly. In a way it’s like a net worth statement of investments . . . but for accounts.

 

  1. In addition to a password manager, write down an inventory of your accounts and log-in information; keep it secure and updated. Of course, don’t put this login info in your estate plan documents. Give clear instructions to your trusted family member or friend as to where to find this document.

 

  1. You’ll want to consider what you want your executor to be able to access. Do you want them to be able to read all your private emails and Google+ Hangout chats? If not, you may specify limited access.

 

  1. This goes without saying, but think long and hard about precisely who you want to have access to your online accounts. Someone may be qualified to be your Financial Power of Attorney agent, but entirely unqualified to handle your digital accounts. You’ll need to consider both trustworthiness and tech savvy and tech aptitude in your decision.

double computer screen

Don’t Just Tweet About It, Talk About It

If you don’t have an estate plan yet, the best place is to start with my Estate Plan Questionnaire. It’s free and provided at no obligation.

If it’s time to update your estate plan to include digital assets, I would love to discuss your situation. Reach out at any time by email, gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com, or cell phone, 515-371-6077.