Sarah Stewart Legal Group, PLLC

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Month: June 2017

6 Common Adoption Questions

By Sarah Stewart Legal Group

When you are looking to grow your family through adoption, it is an exciting, yet nervous time.  Though some people adopt through family relationships- stepparents, grandparents, etc., that is not always the case.

If you are looking to adopt, below are answers to some of the most common questions we’re asked about adoption.

(1) How Do I Adopt?

The first adoption option is through agencies.  Agency adoptions include private and public agencies.  Oklahoma’s public agency is the Department of Human Services.  Private agencies are available throughout the U.S. and Internationally.  If you are using a private agency, be sure it is a reputable one that you or someone you know is familiar with.

Another option is independent adoption. These adoptions are generally facilitated through attorneys, other professionals, or the pregnant woman herself.  Independent adoptions in Oklahoma have the greatest potential for abuse, as biological mothers can revoke consent to adoption any time before they have given consent in court to a Judge, or their rights have been legally terminated.

(2) What Children Are Available for Adoption?

Many different kinds of children are available for adoption.  They come from all different backgrounds, races, nationalities, and religions.  Children can be adopted from the U.S. or internationally.

(3) How Long Does it Take?

The longest part of the process is finding your child.  Waiting times for placements vary depending on your specific interests and qualifications.  Public agencies adopt out children whose parents’ rights have been terminated.  Since their goal is reunification with the family, that generally means they have more older children available.  Private agencies generally allow the biological parent to choose the adopting parent, so you are subject to the likes and dislikes of the parents.

Once you find your child, the legal process in Oklahoma can take 3 months to 1 year, depending on the status of the adoptive child’s parents and the likelihood the biological parents will fight the case.

(4) How Much Does it Cost?

Costs vary depending on the placement used for adopting your child.  Public agencies tend to cost less, and usually cover adoption expenses.  So, public agency adoptions range from 0 – about $2,000.

Private agencies range from $4,000 – $30,000 depending on the agency and services.

Independent adoptions are hard to pinpoint.  In Oklahoma, adoptive parents can help with some expenses of the biological mother.  The biological mother will also need to have an independent attorney hired for her.  So, you are looking at a range of about $5,000 – $30,000 or more, depending on your contract with the biological mother and court costs and attorney fees.

International adoptions can cost $8,000 – $30,000 or more.

(5) What if I’m Single?

Oklahoma laws allow single people over the age of 21 to adopt children.

(6) What Information Will I Give?

You will have to pass a background check and a home study.  Throughout this process, they will check for criminal records, learn about your family history and background, talk about your motivation and expectations for adoption, learn about your family environment and parenting style, and check your physical, employment, and health history.


6 Tips to Reduce Debt and Get Closer to Financial Freedom

By Sarah Stewart Legal Group

Everyone dreams of being wealthy.  Who wouldn’t love to have enough money to do whatever they want whenever they want?  Unfortunately, for the first time in American history, many Millennials, those born in the early 1980s to the mid 1990s, are making less and working harder than their parents did and are buried in far more debt.

Pay for young people in America today is far less than their parents received at their age.  Average income for young people is the lowest it has been since the 1980s.

The Baby Boomer generation graduated with very little, if any, college debt because tuition was much lower in the 1960s and 1970s.  Millennials have graduated with an average of $34,000 in student loan debt. Also, Millennials carry over their credit card debt each month, adding ridiculous amounts of interest and fees each month to their bills.

Because of these conditions, the Millennial generation is delaying buying a home, getting married, and buying cars. So, for most Millennials, paying off their debt is their dream, and a difficult one to attain at that.

If you are a Millennial ridden with debt, you need a good financial plan to get rid of your debt and start your real life.  Here are 6 tips to help you plan:

(1) Decide How Much You Owe

We can’t make a plan if we don’t know what we’re planning for.  Pull out those statements and add up your total amount of debt.

(2) Negotiate Interest Rates

Try to negotiate with your debt-holders on interest.  Just a few points in interest can make a huge difference in your overall payout.  Shop around for consolidation and refinancing options.  Just don’t fall for the “___ months, no interest” trap, unless you can reasonably pay off the debt you’re transferring in that amount of time. Otherwise, you’ll wind up paying interest on your balance, and usually, interest on all the months you supposedly didn’t have interest accruing.

(3) Budget, Budget, Budget

Budget isn’t a dirty word.  Most wealthy individuals live by budgets- and praise them.  Figure out what you can live with and what you can’t live without.  Cut out the extras and bring your monthly budget down to the bare-bones. Pay whatever extra money you can to your lowest debt until it’s paid off, then focus on your next lowest. Re-evaluate your budget each month, and be sure to stick to it! When you budget, you can also make sure you are not adding to those credit card balances each month!

(4) Build an Emergency Fund

Having an emergency fund is essential to getting your finances in check.  If an emergency happens and you don’t have the money set aside to pay for it, you derail all your hard work. Start putting a little aside each month to help with emergencies. In fact, make your emergency fund your first priority, until you have saved at least $1,000.  Then, start working on paying down that debt.

(5) Call a Professional

Accountants and other professionals can help you plan for debt reduction.  Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Or, pick up books by financial gurus- and follow their advice.

(6) Make an Estate Plan

The number one excuse I hear for not planning is “I don’t have an estate.”  This is a myth.

The reality is, everyone has an estate, no matter the size. If you don’t make a plan, the Court will decide who gets your valued things.  Estate planning also determines who you want to help you when you can’t help yourself.  Estate plans are, quite simply, for everyone.

Once you have a plan in place, the rest of the pieces will fall into place.  You may have months where you do better than others, and that’s ok.  Just continue to work on yourself and your finances and you will progress.

3 Essential Estate Planning Documents for Newly Weds and New Parents

By Sarah Stewart Legal Group

Marriage and babies are huge life-changing situations.  These happy times take up so much of our minds each and every day that the importance of planning for our families after these events can be a distant afterthought.

Estate plans are important, even though most new families do not have large estates.  There are many considerations that still need planning, such as guardianship of a child if the parents pass away, and/or ensuring spouses keep the full estate if one of them dies.

It is always important to plan these aspects of your estate and not let the Court determine them for you.  There is no better time to start planning than soon after the honeymoon or new addition arrives!

Every new family should consider the following 3 Essential Estate Planning Documents.

(1) Will or Trust

At the very least, spouses should have Wills in place outlining their wishes for their assets after their death.  Maybe surprisingly, Oklahoma law rarely allows spouses to keep all of a deceased spouse’s assets, unless a Will or Trust says they can. You also have the opportunity to name someone to care for your children if both you and your spouse die.

You will also want to decide if you want your family to go to Court if something happens to you.  If the answer is no, you will want a Trust, or other probate avoidance planning, in place to protect your family from the increased financial and emotional burden of court proceedings.

(2) Powers of Attorney

In Oklahoma, no one is automatically allowed to act for another individual.  If you have joint accounts and property, both spouses can access that information.  However, if any property is separate, the spouse cannot access it without a Power of Attorney, or other legal permission.

Also, spouses are not allowed to make Medical decisions for their incapacitated spouses under Oklahoma law, without a Medical Power of Attorney. If you or your spouse get into a car accident that leaves you unable to walk for any amount of time, you will be glad you have a Medical Power of Attorney in place.

(3) Advance Directive for Health Care

Under Oklahoma law, no one has the authority to withhold life sustaining treatment for someone who cannot make his or her own medical decisions.  The only document that authorizes withholding life-sustaining treatment is the Advance Directive for Health Care.

The Advance Directive consists of 3 parts. (1) The document takes you through several scenarios and asks you to initial for each one if you would want artificial hydration and nutrition only, no life-sustaining treatment, or everything. (2) The document then asks you to choose a health care proxy. The proxy can make medical decisions for you when you can’t, including whether or not to apply life-sustaining treatment. (3) In the third part, you state your wishes for organ and tissue donation.  You can donate for transplantation to other people, or for dental or medical research and advancement.

These documents are the bare necessities that everyone, but especially newly weds and new parents, should have for their estate plan.

An estate plan is a living organism that evolves and changes as you and your life change.  Please be sure to put a plan in place, and revise it as your life circumstances change.

6 Financial Tips for New (or Expecting) Parents

By Sarah Stewart Legal Group

Did you know the average cost of raising a child to adulthood in the U.S., according to 2015 statistics, is estimated to be $230,000?  This does not include extras like private school or college education. This is just the bare-bone basics.  Shocking, I know!

So, what are some tips experienced parents have to help new and expecting parents save and budget their money? Here are 6 tried-and-true tips!

(1) Plan for Formula and Diapers, and Then Budget More

Keep in mind the average child is not potty-trained until 3 years old.  Yep, you read that right. Three.  That’s a lot of dirty diapers to change!  And newborns are expected to have at least 6 dirty diapers a day!  So, budget for those added diaper expenses.

Also, prepare as though you will buy formula.  Most mothers intend to breastfeed as long as possible.  But, in reality, some mothers are unable to breastfeed at all, and others may find the task too difficult when returning to work.  That may be because their employer doesn’t offer an adequate space, or because they are physically drained from constant feeding and pumping.

Whatever the reason, you may need formula sooner than you think.  So budget for it from the start.

(2) Subscription Services

There are several subscription services available to new parents.  These subscriptions usually come with some great savings.  Amazon has Subscribe and Save, there’s also, and other subscription services to explore based on your family’s needs.  Check them out!

(3) Don’t Budget too Much on Toys

The truth is, most younger children do not play with many toys, or get bored easily with their toys.  Consider establishing a 529 College plan instead of having a toy budget.  Family and friends can contribute to the fund directly.

Other great “investments” for baby’s birthday include clothes, diapers, and books.

(4) Get Involved in Your Local Community

Local libraries are a great way to get social interaction for your children for free or low cost.  Also, check out local playgroups and mom communities.  Many are easily accessible online through Facebook or

(5) Don’t Forget Those Extra Weeks

We all know a year is made up of 52 weeks.  But, sometimes we forget those sneaky extra weeks.  Those extra weeks can make your child’s needs, like daycare, more expensive.  Be sure to remember and account for them in your budget.

(6) Check Out Consignment and Other Second-Hand Shops

Let’s be honest.  Most babies hardly wear their clothes before they grow out of them in the first year.  Don’t be afraid of second-hand items.  They’re great deals!

The Oklahoma City Metro has wonderful consignment options.  There are brick and mortar buildings, like Once Upon a Time and Storkland.  There are also many mom clothing exchanges throughout the year and throughout the metro, such as Just Between Friends and Moms of Multiples, just to name a few.

Keep an eye out and talk to Mom friends to find the best bargains for your baby!

The best resource for any new parent is the knowledge and support of other parents.  Reach out to your tribe, or find one for yourself, and heed their sage advice!

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