So often when members of the national media drop into Iowa for parachute stories (in and out) they search for rubes, people with tattered hats and truck-stop unclever slogans bumper-stickered to their vans. The reporters tend to drive straight into the comfortable lanes of stereotypes about rural America.
Not this time.
In a refreshing and exceptionally informative article on arguably the most important of family issues, what happens to money and assets when people die and how to manage such matters, The New York Times Feb. 10 quoted Iowa Savings Bank’s Michel Nelson, vice president and senior trust officer at the institution.
The article quotes Nelson, an attorney, extensively along with sources from Yale University and JP Morgan Chase. It’s remarkable for someone in Carroll, Iowa, to make it into the Rolodex of a Times reporter.
Nelson is known for his expertise with trusts and planning in the Carroll area. He played a key role in establishing the Warren Harding Timmerman Trust for the late Manning farmer and cattleman. Timmerman last month earned the Carroll Chamber of Commerce’s Good Neighbor Award posthumously for establishing the perpetual trust managed by Iowa Savings Bank that has so far resulted in 47 grants totaling about $500,000 to Carroll County endeavors. This is a big deal for Carroll County.
Additionally, for years, Nelson has written a popular newsletter he sends around the nation on the law and money, and he’s been active in shaping legislation in Des Moines on off-the-front-page financial issues that determine much about our lives.
In The New York Times’ piece on wealth management titled “Efforts to avoid probate can carry their own risks,” Nelson warns, for instance, about the perils of people who aren’t married setting up joint bank accounts.
“For the last several years, bank employees have been instructed not to open joint accounts until customers read about the risks,” The Times reports about Iowa Savings Bank. “One risk is that either person can withdraw all the money without the other’s consent. Another is that unless the joint tenant is a spouse, there may be gift-tax costs of adding someone’s name to an account, and joint title could expose each co-owner to the other’s potential liabilities.”
There are also a number of assets that don’t pass through probate, the legal process involved with inheritances in wills and living trusts. Jointly titled bank accounts and savings bonds and retirement assets don’t go into probate, meaning some surprises can be in store for families who assume otherwise, The Times reports.
“He (Nelson) recalled cases in which an aging parent with several adult children depended on one of them as the primary caregiver,” The Times reports. “To facilitate bill-paying, the parent opened a bank account of which that child was the co-owner, not realizing that the co-owner would automatically receive all the money in this account when the parent died. That child has no obligation to share the money with siblings, Mr. Nelson said.”
Say what you want about The New York Times, but in the media universe the Old Gray Lady is the sun. All other news organizations, whether they admit it or not, orbit around what The Times reports in some way or form.
It’s a major coup for Carroll to have one of its brightest professionals featured so prominently in the pages of The Times. And thanks to the story’s online posting and Internet search engines used by reporters Nelson can expect more calls from major-market media in years ahead.