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.