A Legacy on the Land

For Donna Lien, protecting a cherished family property meant rethinking later-life finances.

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By Denise Logeland, Photo by Sara Rubinstein

Forty acres of rolling Wisconsin countryside sit at the heart of Thrivent member Donna Lien’s financial plans. To know the story of the land is to know why Lien, 78, wanted to do more than plan wisely for her older years. She set out to protect a legacy for her family.

Lien lives in the small town of Elmwood, Wisconsin. She remembers a day in the mid-1960s when her late husband, Arland “Chet” Lien, surprised her with an idea.

“My husband came home and said, ‘How about if we buy some land out in the country?’” Lien recalls. Though they were young and getting established, both had grown up as careful spenders and savers, so they were able to make the purchase. Soon, the 40 acres nestled in western Wisconsin’s wooded hills became a haven for their young family.

Chet, a school principal in Elmwood, had a hobby business on the land, a nursery where he grew trees and shrubs. “He just loved it,” Lien says. Their son, Scott, helped out and added flowers to the business. The nursery is gone, but there’s a cabin where Scott and his wife, Chris, and other family members spend time. Scott and his brother-in-law, Paul Blanford, hunt on the land. Scott’s sister, Karen, and her family have horses and other animals there. It’s a place where family memories are made, and it is now also a cherished place for Donna’s four grandchildren, Autumn, Isaac, Tanner and Anna.

The couple had sound financial strategies in place for their older years. But when Chet died in 2000, Lien turned to their Thrivent Financial professional, Joan Bartz of Glenwood City, Wisconsin, with new questions. How could she make sure her family would have the land for years to come? And how could she keep potential future expenses from eating up the legacy she wanted to leave for her family?

“I love working with Donna,” Bartz says. Even though they have a 25-year advisory relationship, “Donna always challenges me with questions, like how can I protect my estate from income taxes and what happens if I go into a nursing home or have a long-term illness? Am I protected from that?”

No more what-ifs

With Bartz’s help, Lien created a financial strategy that answers her own what-ifs. It gives her the income she needs now, and it sets the stage for passing things on to her children. At the same time, her legacy is protected from potential major expenses, such as illness and extended care. Some of the strategies include the transfer of assets to various trusts, the use of life insurance and the plan to change ownership of assets to her beneficiaries in the future.

Many of Lien’s assets—including the 40 acres, her home and her annuities—now sit in a living trust. A living trust is a legal document that can perform like a will, but it also allows your designated “successor trustee” to carry out your instructions if you aren’t able to manage your own financial affairs. Lien controls and benefits from the living trust during her lifetime, and her family will be the beneficiaries of the trust when she is gone.

Lien set up a second trust, too. As she harvests the earnings from her annuities, she’s putting them into life insurance contracts that sit in a separate irrevocable life insurance trust (see “What’s an Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust?”), which she doesn’t own or control. Properly established, the death benefit from the life insurance contracts will be paid to the irrevocable trust free of federal income taxes. The death benefit then can be distributed to her family as the beneficiaries of the trust. Because the trust owns the life insurance, not Lien, it is protected in the event she has big medical or other care costs later on.

“I feel like I’ve got things under control,” Lien says. That feeling lets her continue to live generously. She has set up life insurance contracts and college savings plans for her grandchildren. She leads Thrivent Action Teams, directs Thrivent Choice Dollars®1, plus she makes personal donations and volunteers with her church, Spring Lake Lutheran in Spring Valley, Wisconsin.

Bartz credits Lien’s 40 years of working at the local bank and her willingness to think about financial risk for the solid plan they developed together.

“I compliment her often on what a good job she’s done. She and Chet did the heavy lifting. They were dedicated to saving,” Bartz says. “I really have the fun job of coming in and helping with the transition, making sure that the legacy stays in place and that her goals and her values are at the forefront.”

Denise Logeland is a freelance writer in Minnesota.