Sarah Stewart Legal Group, PLLC

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Month: March 2017

Caregiver Checklist for the Elderly

By Sarah Stewart Legal Group

Caring for an elderly loved one can be a time-consuming, thankless task.  There are so many situations to think about and so little time.  The checklist below will help simplify your legal and other resource concerns if you are a caregiver of an elderly loved one.

(1) Estate Planning Documents

Depending on the level of capacity of your loved one, you will want to ensure a Durable Power of Attorney is in place, if possible.  You will also want to consider encouraging your loved one to make an estate plan- a Will or trust.  I do not recommend encouraging their opinions on who inherits what, but simply urging them to start thinking about their options and finalizing their wishes in writing.  Without a Durable Power of Attorney and estate planning documents, you and your family will face an expensive, stressful battle going to Court to get guardianship and divide the estate when the time comes.

(2) Set up Access to Medical Information

Though a DPOA can help with this, you will also need to consider HIPAA laws and authorizations.  HIPAA laws make access to medical records difficult without the patient’s authorization.  Encourage your loved one to allow you access now, before it’s too late.

(3) Government Benefits

If your loved one or his or her spouse served in the military, your loved one may be eligible for Veteran’s Benefits.  Check with your local Veteran’s Associations to confirm requirements.

Also, depending on you loved one’s income level, he or she may be eligible for Medicaid and other income-based benefits.  Reach out to your local agencies for more information on eligibility requirements.

(4) Find a Doctor Who Specializes in Geriatric Care

Many doctors are unfamiliar with the unique needs of the elderly.  Be sure to reach out to a doctor with appropriate experience and a stellar reputation to help you and your loved one through these transitional years.

(5) Reach out to Community Resources

There are many resources available in the community to help caregivers of the elderly.  There are Adult Day Centers where caregivers can drop their loved ones off for a day of play and socializing while the caregiver works or rests.  There are community respite services, and even home care services available.  Reach out to your DHS Aging Services department, Areawide Aging services organizations, Alzheimer’s Association, and local senior centers for more information on what is available in your community.  Availability of services varies in different communities.

Though it can be difficult to care for your elderly loved ones, there are organizations and people who want to help.  Be sure to reach out and get help for your situation.

8 Most Famous Wills Requests and Probate Battles of the Rich and Famous

By Sarah Stewart Legal Group

Though rich and famous people should be more aware of their need for estate planning, they are not immune to forgetting to plan for their estates after their deaths.  Today, we will discuss some of their most interesting requests and probate battles.  Let these be a lesson for us all.

(1) Prince

One of the most recent and public battles over an estate comes from the unexpected April 2016 death of pop music icon Prince.  Prince was not married, had no children, and no direct next-of-kin.  He also had no estate plan, not even a Will.  According to the law of the state where Prince lived, his closest family members are set to inherit his $300 million fortune.  Many unknown “family members” have made an appearance in the legal proceedings. The Judge has been forced to require DNA tests to prove the claimants relationships to the late legend.

(2) Joan Crawford

In 1977, Joan Crawford left a Will that disinherited her 2 oldest children from her $2 million estate.  The two oldest children sued the estate for their portions, claiming Crawford was unduly influenced by her youngest child and husband to disinherit the children.  After a lengthy legal battle, the children were able to recover a meager inheritance.

(3) Harry Houdini

Houdini died in 1926 and left a strange request in his Will.  Houdini was interested in the paranormal and believed he could communicate with his wife outside the grave.  He asked, in his Will, that she hold an annual seance.  His wife followed his instructions, but Houdini never showed.

(4) Marilyn Monroe

Monroe left a Will giving all of her belongings to her mentor.  She stated in her Will that her belongings should be shared among her friends and loved ones.  Her mentor did not follow her wishes.  Instead, he held on to her items until their value increased. When he died in 1982, his wife inherited the items and sold them.  She profited nearly $14 million off Monroe’s estate.

(5) J. Howard Marshall II

Most of us know the infamous court battle between Anna Nicole Smith and her husband’s children over his estate.  The oil tycoon died just over a year after his marriage.  He left a Will, disinheriting Anna Nicole and his oldest son. Anna Nicole and the eldest son launched years of legal battles against the estate.  In the end, both lost their battles.

(6) Leona Helmsley

At her death in 2007, Helmsley left $8 billion to her family charitable trust.  The trust donates to education, conservation, and health projects. She also left her beloved dog $12 million in a trust (a Court later reduced this to $2 million).

(7) Janis Joplin

In her Will, Joplin left $2,500 ($15,500 today) for her friends to have a large party and celebrate her life. The party took place 3 weeks after her death at her favorite club.  About 200 of her friends reportedly attended the festivities and, by all accounts, had a wonderful time.

(8) William Shakespeare

The famous writer was wealthy when he died in 1616.  His Will gave generously to all of his children and many other family members, but he left little to his wife.  Nevertheless, his wife was entitled to 1/3 of her husband’s estate under English law at the time of his death.


My Child with Special Needs is an Adult. Now What?

By Sarah Stewart Legal Group

Each family with a child with Special Needs has specific and unique circumstances and concerns.  Their legal issues are also unique.  This makes finding a trustworthy professional who can help them navigate those problems challenging.

If you are a family with a loved one with Special Needs who will soon be over the age of 18, here are some legal issues to consider:

(1) Estate Planning

When a child with Special Needs becomes an adult with Special Needs, there are more options available for government benefits.  What is available to whom depends on the specific needs and circumstances of each family.   Some children will be able to live mostly independently from their parents and manage their own assets, others will not. Some will be able to work part time, others will not.

Be sure to research all the options available for your family. Think about how your child will react and his or her ability to manage assets they may inherit when you’re gone. Will he or she need help managing their day-to-day lives?  If so, you may want to consider a Special Needs Trust.

Also, keep in mind that some benefits may be income-based. For those benefits, a Special Needs trust will usually be required to protect your child from losing those assets once you’re gone.  If your child lost his or her benefits, would he or she be able to navigate the system to get them back? To learn more about Special Needs Trusts, click here.

(2) Adult Guardianship

Another potential problem to consider is what happens when your child reaches the age of 18 and is considered an adult.  In Oklahoma, 18 year-olds are able to enter agreements with people and corporations and are considered capable of making business and personal decisions for themselves without parental consent.  Though, arguably, most 18 year-olds do not truly have that capacity, the law is the law and your child will be faced with making adult decisions everyday when they hit the magical age.

Most people with Special Needs are more vulnerable to bad people and bad circumstances. If you have concerns about your child’s ability to “adult” when he or she is 18, you will need to file for guardianship to protect him or her.  To file a guardianship, you will need evidence of the condition that makes your child unable to care for him or herself physically or otherwise.

You will file this information with the Court, issue notices to the closest family members and the child, set and attend a hearing and provide annual reports on the child’s condition to the Court. This is the only way to ensure your child is fully protected.

Some families choose not to seek guardianship.  Maybe the child is mostly capable of “adulting,” or maybe the network the family has built is supportive, understanding, and does not require a guardianship in order to function.  You must review your own familial situation to decide if guardianship is right for you.

If you need help navigating these complex issues, be sure to reach out to professionals you can trust. You will need to find professionals who are familiar with Special Needs issues and understanding of your situation.

4 Frequently Asked Questions About Oklahoma Adoption

By Sarah Stewart Legal Group

There are many different types and circumstances of adoption: through the state, international, step-parent, grandparent, kinship, private. With so many different choices, Oklahoma families looking to adopt can get a little confused.  Today, we will discuss the most frequently asked adoption questions.

(1) What are the requirements to be an adoptive family in Oklahoma?

-You must be at least 21 years of age.

-in reasonably good health

-your marital status is unimportant.  Married couples, single people, widows, and legally separated people can all adopt children in the state of Oklahoma

-you must have the means and space to house a child

-you must be willing to accept the child as your own and become the parent of the child

-you will need to have a background check and home study completed (this can be waived for step-parent adoptions)

-you must not have a conviction for child abuse or neglect or sexual offenses

(2) What are the costs?

This answer depends on the type of adoption you are completing.  Usually, the state offers stipends and other incentives that make adoption a free or low cost option for those children in DHS custody.

For private adoptions, you may need to pay an adoption agency, some expenses of the birth mother, home study and background check, legal expenses, and the legal expenses of the mother.

For step-parent, grandparent, kinship adoptions, you may have to pay for a home study, background check, and legal fees associated with the action.

For international adoptions, you will have to pay the agency, the adoption fees internationally, and the legal fees and expenses to re-adopt in the state of Oklahoma as well as all naturalization documents for the child.

(3) Who do I contact about adoption?

For the state contact DHS 1-800-376-9729

For private adoption, there are many options in and out of the state.  For local agencies, contact: Adoption Choices of Oklahoma, Crisis Pregnancy Outreach, Catholic Charities, Deaconess Adoption Services, Lilyfield, and Oklahoma Baptist Home for Children.

For international adoption, thoroughly check all adoption agencies as there have been reports of sham agencies and agencies closing on a moment’s notice.  It is best to get personal referrals from those you know about the agencies they have used.

For kinship and step-parent adoptions, private attorneys or Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma should be able to assist you with the process.

(4) Do I have to have the parents’ consents to adopt?

For children in state custody, usually parental rights have already been terminated and the child is immediately eligible for adoption.  For kinship placements and step-parent adoptions, and some other private adoptions, there are situations where you will not need consent to adopt a child.  There is a post related to this topic here.

For many private adoptions, especially with expectant mothers, you will have to have the mother’s consent and at least send notice to the father.

For international adoptions, the agency in charge of the adoption should be able to handle this for you, at least internationally.

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