Sarah Stewart Legal Group, PLLC

Caring, Honest, Solutions to Your Legal Needs at Affordable Rates.

Month: October 2016

5 Financial Mistakes of Millennial Parents

By: Sarah Stewart Legal Group

Parents are busy.  They cart their children around to endless activities while trying to manage a household, and oftentimes, work.  In the midst of all the craziness, it’s easy to forget how important your finances are and how to plan for the future, when the kids have left the nest.  Here are the 5 most important financial mistakes for young parents to fix:

(1) Neglecting your retirement account.

Many parents try to fund their children’s college educations, but don’t save for their own retirements.  Really, parents should focus on saving for retirement over funding college.  First, there are scholarships and loans available for college while there aren’t for retirement.  Second, who’s to say college 20 years from now will be of the same importance or that your child will even decide to go to college?  Maybe they’ll be the next teenage genius, business-building sensation!

If you are employed, focus on your 401k accounts first.  Many times, employers will match a portion of their employees’ contributions.  If that is not an option, choose a ROTH IRA or traditional IRA.  Talk to a professional about the best option for you.

(2) Forgetting to save.

What would happen today if you and/or your spouse lost your job?  Would you have enough money to pay bills, buy groceries, and pay for gas to get you to interviews?  If you’re like most young parents, the answer is no.  Most financial experts suggest having 3 to 6 months of total living expenses saved as an emergency fund.  Start today!  Open an online account with a bank.  Don’t order checks, and set up a direct payment from your account in whatever amount you can reasonably afford each month.  Resist the urge to dip into the account, unless it’s an emergency, until it passes your 3 to 6 month emergency fund requirement. This will allow you to weather the storm of unemployment, or pay unexpected medical or home repair expenses when they come up.

(3) Failing to take tax breaks.

Most parents are aware of the tax breaks available per child.  However, they sometimes miss less obvious tax savings.  Be sure to speak to your accountant, or look into tax savings on daycare, child tax credits, tax credits for adoption, and tuition credits for special needs students.  You can find information on these credits at

(4) Starting savings accounts owned by your child.

Opening a custodial savings account when your child receives money for education from a family member seems like a good idea.  But, there are drawbacks. You can’t reach the money if you need it, savings are taxable, the account will count against eligibility for financial aid, and the return on investment is usually not very high.  Your family should consider a 529 college-savings plan instead.  If you use the account toward eligible education expenses, the money will grow tax-free.  Also, the accounts usually have a higher interest yield than CDs and other savings accounts.

(5) Overlooking health-care flexible spending accounts.

Many companies allow employees to save pretax dollars for medical expenses.  Only about 20% of employees take advantage of the plan, likely because of the nature of the savings that if you do not use the account, you will lose that money.  To take full advantage of this opportunity, look at your medical records.  Determine how much prescriptions, dental, vision, and doctor’s appointments were for the past year, then use that total for your FSA at enrollment.  Keep in mind, there may be a cap.

Do I Really Need a Lawyer to Make a Will?

By: Sarah Stewart Legal Group

Today, quick, easy legal services abound.  There appears to be a great deal that’s too good to be true around every corner.  LegalZoom and “certified paralegals” offering reduced prices and quick turnaround are everywhere you look.  So, with all the latest technology and trends, the question remains, do you really need to hire an attorney to make a Will?

I, and many other attorneys, have encountered the shady underbelly of the quick and easy schemes.  We’ve seen Wills thrown out in Court for being invalid, divorces have to be restarted because of shoddy work, and families who thought they knew enough to make documents that actually did not say what they meant them to say at all.

What many people seem to forget is that many attorneys are hip and savvy to the new technology today.  I know several estate planning attorneys who, with some questionnaires, personal conversations, and copies of your photo ID, would be happy to help you quickly, easily, and possibly, entirely online.  Attorneys who are schooled in the law of Oklahoma.  Not a national chain that may not have the education you need to make sure your documents are valid and accurately portray your wishes. It never hurts to ask, after all.

That being said, there are valid ways in Oklahoma to make your own Will, without an attorney or legal service.  Of course, if this is the route you hope to take, always proceed with caution.  There are subtleties within our law you may not be privvy to and need to research. For instance, did you know that you can disinherit a child in Oklahoma, but in order to do so, you have to show explicitly your intent to disinherit that child?  This can be done a few different ways, but the best is to expressly state you intend to disinherit the child.

So, with that in mind, how can you make a Will by yourself?  For a Holographic Will to be valid in Oklahoma, you must have the following:

(1) Handwritten. Entirely handwritten by the person making the Will.

(2) Dated. The Will must be dated by the person making the Will.

(3) Signed. The Will must be signed by the person making the Will.

The Will can be written and signed anywhere.  The person making the Will does not have to be in the State of Oklahoma when they draft it.  The Will does not need witnesses, like other, more formal Wills.

Though it is possible to make a holographic Will in Oklahoma, you must also remember these Wills are more susceptible to family disputes and questions of authenticity than the common witnessed, signed, and notarized versions professionals will help you prepare.  Whether a holographic Will is right for you and your family situation is a very serious question to consider before making one. However, if  you have absolutely nothing else, at least this type of Will gives you and your family something to go off of when you die. And something is usually better than nothing.


What is the value of real property in Oklahoma?

By: Sarah Stewart Legal Group, PLLC

I often have clients ask me how they can find the value of real property.  They may need to report the value to a Court for probate, or they may be looking to sell their house or put a value on it for estate planning and financial planning purposes.  As usual, the answer is:  “It depends.”

Luckily for most Oklahomans, and those who are out of state, but need to probate or value property in Oklahoma, most Oklahoma counties have their own sites where you can look up property information. If the County does not have a web site, you can always visit their County Assessor offices to access the information.  In Oklahoma, county assessors do regular property valuations for property tax purposes. The information on assessor valuations are usually easy to find.  Sometimes, you may have to pay a fee to access the information, but the fee is much lower than hiring an actual appraiser.

Most of the time this value is close enough.  But, if the property is on one of two ends of an extreme, either the property is very run down and has not been kept up, or the property has had a lot of improvements, maybe additions to the home or guest houses built on the property, the assessor value will not be enough.  In this case you will have two options.  (1) You can look at the sale prices of similar homes in the area over the past few months or a year (the Oklahoma County assessor site will provide this information for you for Oklahoma County), or (2) you can hire an appraiser, or possibly a real estate agent, to assess the value of the property.

Often, this process can work for mineral interests as well.  If the property does not have an oil and gas lease, then the property value would be the amount you could sale the unleased interests for.  Sometimes, that can be the assessed value.  If the property is leased, you should be able to get information on the value of the lease from the oil and gas company leasing the property. Keep in mind that if you do not have an ownership interest in the oil and gas leases, you may need to go through probate before the company will share this information with you. Even if you have someone who lived out of state, but had property in the state of Oklahoma, if the property wasn’t owned jointly or left through transfer on death, you will likely need to probate the Oklahoma interest in a Court in the County where the interest is held.

Once the property value is determined, you can use that information to your advantage.  Whether you need to inform the Court of the value for a probate, keep records of your home value for financial and estate planning reasons, or get an estimate of what you might get if you sold the property, these options are good places to start.

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