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5 Ways to Support a Caregiver

By Sarah Stewart Legal Group

Caregiving takes on many forms.  Parents are caregivers for their children.  Adults may have caregivers if they have Special Needs or health and mobility issues.

Caregivers face a lot of challenges. On top of juggling their own careers, family lives, and lifestyles, they now take on the responsibility of caring for another person and managing that person’s life.

Caregiving is often a thankless  job.  Family members and friends may not understand the physical and emotional toll caregiving can take on the caregiver.

If you know a caregiver, reach out and offer your support. Here are 5 ways.

(1) Offer Your Friendship

Simply being a sounding board for your friend in their time of need and checking in on them can help the caregiver in your life.  Offer to take them out for coffee or dinner, or drop in to say hi.  Let them know they’re still important in your life.

(2) Lend A Hand

Offer to visit the person needing care and give the caregiver a break to attend to the caregiver’s needs.  Bring dinner by for the caregiver and the person needing assistance.  Schedule a respite service or dinner delivery for the caregiver if you don’t live locally, or can’t help personally.

(3) Avoid Judging

Make a point to avoid criticizing the caregiver.  If you think something can be done better or differently, come up with a solution, such as taking on that matter yourself, or helping hire a respite worker who can.

Caregivers struggle enough with their duties and responsibilities and feeling like they aren’t doing enough.  Offering a helping hand will always go further than arguing and critiquing.

(4) Avoid Complaining

Sometimes families can add more stress to caregivers by complaining about things the caregivers really can’t control, such as the condition of the house before the caregiver stepped in, the locations of items owned by the person, legal requirements and processes, or other matters the caregiver simply can’t control.

Though family members may think they’re helping by pointing out these problems, chances are, your caregiver already knows.  Bringing them up to the caregiver can make them feel helpless and add to their stress.

(5) Avoid Telling Them How They Can Be Better or What They’re Doing Wrong

This is another area of stress for caregivers.  The stress only increases when the person suggesting how the caregiver can improve isn’t present to see the circumstances or help out themselves.

Instead of focusing on the negative, focus on the positive things the caregiver is doing for the family, how their actions help you, and how you can help the caregiver. Unless you have strong reason to believe otherwise, trust that they are doing their best.

Most caregivers are doing the best they can for their families, often with limited time and resources.  They simply need a little compassion from the people who matter most to them in their lives.

Of course, there can be situations where the “caregiver” is actually taking advantage of the person they are caring for.  If you believe a caregiver is abusing the person they are caring for emotionally, physically or financially, report their actions to Adult Protective Services or Child Protective Services.

If you know a caregiver facing legal difficulty getting care for the person they’re caring for, have them reach out to an attorney today!

10 Retirement Tips for Millennials

By Sarah Stewart Legal Group

Definitions of Millennials vary.  But, ultimately, when someone refers to a Millennial, they mean someone in their 20s or 30s.  Millennials tend to focus on their day-to-day financial needs and forget to focus on their future and retirement.

If you begin following these 10 tips now, you can have a financially free future, and yes, even retire one day.

(1) Start Saving Today

An interesting thing about investing money is money compounds.  That means the longer the money is invested, the more money it can make for you.

For example, if a 25 year old wants to have $1 million in retirement, they can start today and invest $880.21 per month with a 5% return.  If a 35 year old wants to retire with $1 million, they have to invest $1,679.23 each month with a 5% return.  For a 45 year old, the monthly investment would have to be $3,741.27 on a 5% return.

Find a great investment program that works for you.  Look for high returns and low fees.  And, start investing for your future!

(2) Be Consistent

Figure out how much you can save for retirement each month.  Then, do it!  Put your retirement account drafts on automatic withdrawal.  Try to increase the amount you’re saving each year until you reach the maximum amount allowed by the IRS.

(3) Have an Emergency Fund

Something will always come up.  The furnace will break.  The hot water heater will blow out.  The car will need new tires.

Plan for your emergencies now!  Save a little each month until you save 6 to 9 months of living expenses in a savings account.  This fund will be invaluable to you when you need it!

(4) Live Within Your Means

Buy what you need and what you can afford. Don’t try to keep up with the Joneses. It will pay off in the long run.

(5) Balance

Realize that you need to treat yourself sometimes and you need to save others.  The secret is balancing the two.  Find your balance.

(6) Don’t Forget Insurance

Term life insurance policies for Millennials are cheap.  Buy them while you’re young to protect your family when you’re older.

Also, remember that we’re not immortal.  Look into disability policies.  If you get hurt, they can help you pay the bills while you recover.

(7) Buy Low Sell High

When investing in stocks be sure to do your research on the best stocks to invest in.  But, once you know, remember the rule.  Always buy your stocks when they’re low and sell them when they’re high for the best return on investment.

(8) Grow Your Investments While You Grow

When you get that raise or promotion, devote a percentage of it to your investments.  That way, you can enjoy your hard work now, with the percentage you enjoy from your raise today, and in the future, with the percentage you devote to your investments.

(9) Pay Off Debts

Let’s say you pay off your car and get an extra $200 in your pocket each month.  Instead of using that money on furniture or a new toy, use that extra money to pay off the next lowest debt.  Continue this process until you’re debt free and imagine the lifestyle you can live!

(10) Determine Your Savings Goal

If we want to achieve a goal, we have to know what that goal is.  We can’t get where we’re going if we don’t know where we’re going.

Work with an advisor to calculate your retirement needs based on the lifestyle you hope to live.  Make a plan to save for that goal, and follow it.

7 Little Known Adoption Facts

By Sarah Stewart Legal Group

With over 135,000 children adopted each year and nearly 428,000 children in foster care, adoption is common in the U.S.  Adoption is a wonderful option for many families. But, the process is complicated and can be emotional for everyone involved.

Here are 7 facts you may not have known about adoption in the U.S.

(1) A Lot of People Are Affected By Adoption

Nearly 100 million U.S. citizens have adoption in their families. Almost 60 % of Americans have adopted or have experience with adoption. And, according to data from 2013, 7 million Americans living that year were adopted.

(2) You Can Get Tax Breaks with Adoption

Adoptive parents can take advantage of 2 main tax benefits.  First, parents can get a tax credit for some expenses paid to adopt a child. For 2017, the maximum credit amount is $13,570. Second, parents can exclude employer- provided adoption assistance from their incomes.

(3) It Can Be Expensive

There are several different avenues people can take to adopt.  Their options include private adoption, adoption through a government agency, or international adoption.  Each choice comes with its own special price tag.

International adoptions cost the most and can range from $15,000 to upwards of $40,000.  Private adoptions range from $8,000 up to $40,000.  And adoptions from government agencies generally carry a lot of financial assistance, so they can range from $0 to around $3,000. Generally speaking, the lower the risk, the greater the cost.

(4) Kids Looking for Families Can Be Older

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates the average age of a child waiting for an adoptive family is 7.7 years old and around 11 % of foster children spend 5 years or more in foster care. Don’t count out older children if you plan to adopt.

(5) Celebrities Are Adopting

Celebrities have increased the visibility and viability of adoption as a family choice in the U.S. Sheryl Crow, Sandra Bullock, Angelina Jolie, and Madonna are just a few of many celebrities who have adopted children.

(6) LGTBQ Couples Can Have a Hard Time Adopting

Statistics show LGTBQ couples are raising about 4 % of America’s adopted children. However, some states have laws that allow adoption agencies to deny placements with families that have lifestyles that contradict the agencies’ religious beliefs.

These laws found in states like South Dakota, and close to approval in Oklahoma, make adoption more difficult for these families.

(7) Controversy Surrounds the Well-Being of Adopted Children

According the the Atlantic, a 2015 study found that adopted children are “significantly likelier than birth children to have behavior and learning problems.” The study found that despite the fact most adopted children grow up in homes where the parents are wealthier and more attentive than their birth families, nearly 2 times as many adopted children were diagnosed with learning disabilities than children raised in a home with birth parents.

However, in terms of physical health, adopted children fair better than their counterparts raised in their birth families’ homes.

A 2007 report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found 85 % of adopted children have very good or excellent health, are more likely to have health insurance, and are less likely to live in poverty.

If you’re considering adoption, reach out to a professional today to help!

 

5 Financial Concerns to Address Before You Remarry

By Sarah Stewart Legal Group

People who choose to remarry have more to lose than they did the first time around.  They have a more established career, more assets, and, often, children from a previous marriage.  When you remarry you need to be more cautious of protecting your assets and family before you begin your marital bliss.

(1) Determine Your Consolidated Net Worth

Couples who remarry can have complex financial issues that should be addressed prior to the wedding.  Some may be paying child support or alimony, have investments in their names, and already started tax and estate planning strategies for their assets.

Couples should discuss these matters prior to the wedding.  Sit down and decide what your net worth is individually and then talk about it and determine what your joint net worth will be.  This discussion can open up more opportunities to discuss your money management styles and who will handle what in your marriage.

(2) Make a Marriage Agreement – in Writing

I know, I know.  It doesn’t sound romantic to talk about the possibility of divorce before you’re even married.  But, as someone who has been there before, you know the reality that your marital bliss could end one day, and you must properly prepare.

Each party should welcome a marriage agreement, in the form of a prenuptial agreement, preferably.  These documents allow you to specify what assets you want to keep separate in your marriage, so that you can claim them free and clear in a divorce.

(3) Talk About the Kids

Blended families create many different kinds of dynamics.  But, regardless of your family’s dynamic, the fact remains that the children and the spouse should be accounted for in financial and estate plans.  Children cost a lot of money.  You must be on the same page with your new spouse about what you will and won’t pay for when it comes to the kids.

Will you both contribute to the care of the children? Or will the spouse who brings the children to the marriage be solely responsible?  What if one of you makes significantly more than the other?  How will you plan for the children’s expenses?

Do you want your ex-spouse to manage any money that you leave to the children?  If not, you will need a more complex estate plan for your children.  Speak with financial planners and an attorney with experience in estate planning to plan for your blended family.

(4) Update Beneficiaries

Life insurance, retirement accounts, even banking accounts can have beneficiaries named that will receive these assets at your death.  It is very easy to forget to update beneficiaries on all of your accounts, but it is extremely important to do so after every major life event.  Marriage is one of the most important.

When you create a life with someone new, you want to know they’ll be taken care of when you are gone.  If you don’t update your beneficiaries, your Mom or Brother will still get the money if something happens to you, and your spouse will struggle.

(5) Change Your Wealth and Estate Plans

Another easy area to forget to update is your legal documents and wealth plans.  We often create these important documents and check it off our list, to leave them collecting dust in the safety deposit box.  But, as life changes, so do your plans.

Be sure to update these documents after you get married by reaching out to your estate and wealth planning professionals!

 

Wealth and End-of-Life Planning for Those Aging Alone

By Sarah Stewart Legal Group

Nowadays, people are living longer and longer.  Many choose not to have children.   Some simply outlive their families, leaving these aging people to plan for their end-of-life without their family.

When these people age, what happens when they can no longer make decisions for themselves?

In order to have someone who can help you make decisions and manage your assets when you cannot do it yourself, you must put important estate planning documents in place.  These documents include healthcare directives, durable powers of attorney, and possibly Wills and Trusts.

If you are one of these people, or may be in the future, what can you do?

When You Don’t Know Who to Pick As A Decision-maker

Without the planning documents previously named, no one will have the authority to act on your behalf.  That means, someone will have to Petition the Court to become your Guardian and make decisions for you.  If you do not have family, it is likely the party Petitioning to be your Guardian will be the State.

In these cases, the State has decided that you are unable to care for yourself and need someone to look after you.  When they cannot find a family member to do that, they will file to act as your manager and decision-maker. The State will not know you personally and what your wishes may be.  The State will add your name to a long list of other individuals they care for and look after.

Wouldn’t you much rather pick a loved one you trust?

Who Do You Pick

Often, professionals who aid in your estate planning will ask you to name a primary, secondary, and sometimes even tertiary agent to act on your behalf in your documents. For married couples, the primary agent is usually the spouse.  For singles, this is a harder decision to make.

If you have a large family, but no children of your own, you will want to think about who you trust the most and who you are closest to in your extended family.  Reach out to them and have a discussion about your wishes for end-of-life and that you would like them to act as your agent. It is best to choose someone with a similar belief system to your own.

But, what if you’re not close to your family?  Then, you will need to look to your closest friends and associates. This, of course, can be challenging if all of you are the same age, as you may be going through the same problems at the same time and not be able to care for one another.  You will want to name at least primary, secondary, and tertiary agents, and strongly consider naming younger friends as agents.

Professional Guardians

If you’ve exhausted the list of people close to you and still do not feel comfortable naming someone as an agent, you will want to consider hiring a professional.

You may have a good connection with your local bank.  Often, they have departments that can act as Trustees for you and manage your assets when you no longer can.  In that situation, you would want to plan your long-term care ahead of time.

Sometimes attorneys and other professionals can be hired to act as Guardians.  You will need to find someone you trust and can see managing your finances and healthcare decisions long-term if you go this route.

You do not want to be forced to age in ways you would not want.  Reach out today to get your wealth and estate planning taken care of with a professional!

 

 

 

Plan Well For Your End of Life Like Barbara Bush and Betty Ford

Source: http://www.fordlibrarymuseum.gov/images/avproj/pop-ups/2008-NLF-021.html

By Sarah Stewart Legal Group

Everyone is familiar with former first ladies Barbara Bush and Betty Ford. Both impacted countless lives with their service, albeit in different ways. Barbara Bush advocated for children and literacy and died just days ago, on April 17th. Betty Ford was politically active and an avid feminist who died on July 8, 2011. Their deaths left a void in America’s hearts and can teach us valuable lessons.

Barbara’s Planning

Barbara Bush was an elegant woman.  Her death was no different.  She made choices in her estate plan that allowed her to decide how she would live out her final days.  Her well-lived life deserved nothing more than a well-planned end. The circumstances surrounding her death prove she had a healthcare directive in place.

Barbara chose to stop treating her chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and heart failure. She chose to return home for her final days. Her plans enabled her to spend her last days peacefully with her family, enjoying a bourbon as her last drink.

Without a healthcare directive, families are left wondering what their loved ones’ wishes were for their medical care and treatment at the end of their lives. A healthcare directive tells your family what you want, and who you want to make important decisions, like withdrawing life support.  Oklahoma law does not give authority to anyone, absent a directive, to agree to withhold or withdraw life support for a loved one.

Unlike Barbara, many U.S. citizens avoid planning their deaths. A study from the Palliative and Advanced Illness Research Center at the University of Pennsylvania in 2017 showed that 71 % of Americans do not have healthcare directives in place.

Let’s learn a lesson from this influential First Lady and make our plans today!

Betty Ford’s Special Wishes

Betty Ford was a spirited, opinionated, and lively first lady.  In keeping with her character, Betty Ford used her estate plan to get her wish of having Cokie Roberts deliver a eulogy based on how political partisanship hurts the United States.

Betty left Cokie Roberts instructions on her eulogy, stating she wanted Cokie to discuss government in the 1960s and 1970s and how the parties were required to work together, mostly because they often socialized together. She picked Cokie Roberts because her father was a Democratic Congressman known for working well with a Republican, Gerald Ford.

Many families struggle with funeral arrangements.  They ask themselves what their loved ones would have wanted.  The more specific you are in your estate planning documents, the less guesswork you leave for your family.  These are your documents.  Make your funeral the party, or non-gathering, you always wanted it to be!

Follow the examples of these strong, memorable first ladies.  Reach out to a professional to take action on your estate plans.  Or, at the very least, start thinking about and writing down your wishes so your family can honor them and you can put them in more binding form later.

Start talking to your families out loud.  Let them know what you want.  These conversations may not seem easy, but the reality is, few things that are worth it ever are.

The Importance of Business Exit Planning

By Sarah Stewart Legal Group

Oklahoma is a thriving environment for small business owners. In 2013, the Small Business Administration reported there were 337,066 small businesses in Oklahoma.  Small businesses were defined in this survey as companies employing less than 500 employees.

Though business owners are savvy and skilled at many things, small business owners often neglect to realize the importance they have in their community, and the importance of planning for the continuation of their businesses when they can no longer run them.

And, let’s admit it, just like everyone else, we all hope to retire some day! If you want to do that successfully, you have to plan adequately.

So, the question is what should these business owners do with their businesses? How can we successfully leave behind the day-to-day activities and retire from our businesses when the time comes?

Studies have shown that for small business owners, on average, at least 85% of our net worth is tied up in our businesses. In order to properly withdraw assets from a business, you need to make a plan early.

The best exit plans will explore (1) when you will leave your business, (2) how you will sale or transfer ownership in your business, (3) how much money you will need to retire from your business.

You will also want to consider other factors that may be important to you, like how to care for long-time employees, maintain your business’s reputation, and stay involved with your community.

When making your succession plan, be sure to think about (1) asset protection- both for your business and your personal assets, (2) how to minimize taxes and maximize value, (3) training a successor, (4) continuing the business, and (5) wealth and estate planning.

Your exit plan should be fluid, allowing you to adjust to changing circumstances in your business.  What if your first choice for successor isn’t available?  How would you determine a secondary option? What if an unforeseen buyer offered you a lot of money to buy your business?  What could they offer to buy you out?

To properly transfer a business to someone in your family or an employee, you will want to start the process at least 6 to 8 years ahead of time. If you want to sell, you should begin courting buyers at least 2 to 3 years in advance.

In every financial and business matter, the more you plan, the better it is for you and your family.  Thorough planning ensures your course of action when you are ready to step out of your business.

It is never too early to start your exit plan, and the plan can be updated as your circumstances change. The most important thing is to start!

3 Considerations to Secure the Financial Future of Your Child with Special Needs

By Sarah Stewart Legal Group

In a 2011 study, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated 1 in 7 children are diagnosed with developmental disabilities. That means more than 10 million children in the U.S. have developmental disabilities.

Though the amount of help each child may need in the future varies, one thing is certain, for families with children with special needs, planning for your child’s financial future is even more important.

Special concerns for families with members with special needs include securing proper and affordable health insurance, appropriate life insurance, and wealth and estate planning with a qualified planner who has an awareness of how those plans can impact the child’s benefits.

Health Insurance

Insurance premiums for children with special needs can be pricey.  But, given the extra medical attention they may need, insurance is worth it in the long run.  Shop around for the best fit for your family.

Life Insurance

Life insurance is important for every family.  But, in a family with a member with special needs, the right life insurance can be invaluable.  Your family can use life insurance to help care for a family member with special needs when you are no longer able to do so yourself.

Wealth and Estate Planning

Though many families expect to raise their children and send them out on their own around the age of 18, families with members with special needs are different.  Often, these families care for their members with special needs well past the age of 18, making the division of assets at a parent’s death extremely important.

If an heir of an estate has benefits in place for his or her special needs, an inheritance can disqualify the heir from those benefits.  So, it is important to put a Special Needs Trust in place with Trustees that you can rely on to manage inheritances on the heir’s behalf.

A properly established Special Needs Trust can provide for the heir without removing established benefits, name someone to care for the heir after his or her parent’s die, and put a plan into place to help the heir as he or she grows older.

If you have a child with special needs, planning is not just a convenience, but rather a necessity.  Reach out to professionals today to help you plan for your child’s future.

 

5 Ownership Options for Real Estate Investments

By Sarah Stewart Legal Group

People who invest in real estate as a business often invest with other people.  When you own property with another person, the ownership structure plays an important role in your business.

Today, we cover five (5) ownership options for investing in real estate.

(1) Tenants in Common

This type of ownership does not require a business structure.  It simply means each party that invests in the property has an equal ownership share in the property.

Ownership of property as tenants in common does not provide protection from business liability to the owners.  It can also become messy if one of the owners passes away, as that owner’s interest in the property will pass to their heirs.

(2) Partnership

A partnership is a business entity where the owners all share liability and profits of the business.  Depending on the partnership agreement, some partners can have limited liability, meaning they will not be responsible for the other partners’ liabilities; but generally, the partners are equally personally responsible for all business liabilities.

A partnership agreement does allow the parties to determine how their interest will pass when one partner dies, giving partners more control over the property’s ownership after a partner’s death.

(3) Limited Liability Company

To form a limited liability company, the owners must register with the Secretary of State for the state where they do business. There is an initial fee, and usually, an annual fee to re-register each year.

Limited liability companies limit the members’ personal liability for business debts.  This means creditors of the business cannot go after the personal assets of the members, unless the members personally guarantee those debts. These entities do not require a board of directors or minutes of meetings.

There can also be some tax benefits to owning a limited liability company because certain business expenses can be deducted from income. Limited liability companies can also elect to file taxes as an S Corporation. If you are considering starting a limited liability company, you should speak to an accountant.

(4) S Corporation

To form an S Corporation, the owners must register with the Secretary of State for the state where they do business. There is an initial fee, and usually, an annual fee to re-register each year.

S Corporations are named after the section of the tax code that governs their structure.  S Corps are corporations where the profits and losses of the business pass through to the owners and are claimed on their individual returns, not those of the business.

S Corps are a hybrid entity that allow certain tax considerations of a corporation and a pass through entity.  For the right business, it is the best of both worlds. These entities do not require a board of directors or minutes of meetings.

S Corps have specific requirements about who can be a shareholder, including the type of entity and citizenship status.  Be sure that you are following these criteria if you elect an S Corp entity.

S Corps do provide their shareholders with limited liability for business debts.

(5) C Corporations

To form a corporation, the owners must register with the Secretary of State for the state where they do business. There is an initial fee, and usually, an annual fee to re-register each year.

C Corporations, like S Corporations, are named for the section of the IRS code that governs their taxes. C Corps are your classic corporations.

C Corps offer limited liability to owners and allow the company to sell shares of stock in the corporation. There are no requirements on who can hold shares.  This gives the entity unlimited growth potential.

Corporations are required to have a board of directors that hold annual meetings and keep minutes of those meetings. They are taxed as an entity and shareholders are taxed individually on their dividends.

If you choose a business entity to hold your investments, we highly suggest you put a business contract into place that outlines the rules, requirements, and other agreements for your owners in your business.  Without this contract, you will be open to owner disagreements and litigation along the way.

Oklahoma’s Step-Parent Adoption Procedure

By: Sarah Stewart Legal Group

In our office we get a lot of questions about adoption.  But, the majority of those questions are from blended families who want to know about step-parent adoptions.

Often, when one parent is out of the picture, for whatever reason, the remaining parent will marry and the new spouse will connect with the children in a way that makes them want full, legal custody of the children.

For Oklahoma families, the step-parent adoption process is similar to other adoptions, but there are a few differences.

Requirements

For a step-parent to adopt in Oklahoma, they must be married to the biological parent of the child for at least one (1) year.  That means the couple must be legally married for the partner to adopt the child.  So, boyfriends and girlfriends cannot adopt in Oklahoma. Sorry, guys.

The biological parent will have to participate in the adoption process and consent to the adoption. The couple will attend hearings and file documents together.

The couple can ask the Court to forego certain requirements of other adoptions, such as home studies and waiting periods, if the waiver would be in the best interests of the child, the child has lived with the new parent for at least one (1) year, and the new parent has no history of child abuse, neglect, domestic violence, or victim protective orders against them.

Other Parent’s Rights and Consent

If at all possible, the adopting couple will need to get consent from the other biological parent.  Sometimes this can be difficult because the other parent may have disappeared, be imprisoned, or refuse to agree, despite their lack of contact with the child.

If you cannot get consent, or do not know where the other parent is, you can still get an adoption without consent, but only if certain requirements are met.

The most typical requirements we find in our cases are no contact with the child for twelve (12) of the last fourteen (14) months, not including “token” communications such as holiday and birthday cards; and/or not supporting the child for twelve (12) of the last fourteen (14) months.

If the child is over the age of twelve (12), the child will have to consent to the adoption as well.

Once the adoption is complete, the step-parent will become the legal parent of the child.  They will be responsible for the same things any parent would and have the same rights as any other parent.  For instance, if the couple divorces after the adoption, the new parent will have full rights to custody and visitation with the child.

What Court Do I File In

The couple will file for adoption in the County where they have lived with the child for at least six (6) months. If the child is, or could be, a member of an Indian tribe, the tribe must be informed and special procedures followed.

Though anyone can file court documents and begin court cases on their own, hiring an experienced legal professional can save you a lot of time, stress, and anxiety.

If you need help with a Step-parent adoption, don’t hesitate to call or email us today!

 

 

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