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Category: Estate Planning (Page 1 of 8)

This Holiday Season Give Your Family the Gift of Planning

By Sarah Stewart Legal Group, PLLC

Many people look at estate planning as an unwanted necessity. When you think of the holidays, silver bells, snow, and family come to mind.  I’m willing to bet the last thing on your mind is estate planning.

I’d like to challenge you to change your perspective this Holiday Season.  Though an estate plan may not be the sexiest gift to give your family, it is certainly one of the most practical!

The Gift That Keeps On Giving

If you have ever had to be involved in the court procedure to transfer assets of a deceased family member (probate), you know how exhausting, complicated, and uncomfortable a task it is to try to navigate the court system while grieving.

Also, if you don’t have the proper documents in place, the Court may choose for you who gets what.  Did you know that in Oklahoma, if you have children, your spouse is only entitled to 1/2 of your assets that aren’t jointly owned when you die?  If your children are from another relationship, that percentage could be even less.  Is that what you want for your spouse?

Preparing your own estate plan for probate avoidance gives your family the gift of peace and security, for years to come. Moreover, advanced preparation will allow your family to access funds to plan your funeral services and pay final expenses for you without having to come out of pocket for those bills themselves.

Such a wonderful gift for your loved ones, who have their own financial concerns, or your spouse who’s struggling to pay all the bills after your death, not to have to worry about your finances as well!

By giving the gift of estate planning to your family, you are offering to continue to help care for them despite not being able to physically be there.

Gifting for Tax Purposes

The government allows an individual to get tax deductions for giving gifts to others during the individual’s lifetime, including charitable organizations. Speak to your financial, legal, and tax advisors to find the best way to offer lifetime gifts to others over the holidays.

Look for the Helpers

When making an estate plan, you have a lot of considerations and decisions to make.  Your trusted financial, legal, and tax advisors can come together to formulate the right plan to suit your needs and goals.  Reach out to your trusted advisors today to give your family the gift of security and peace of mind this year!

What Young Parents Need to Know About Guardianship

By Sarah Stewart Legal Group

As parents, our plates are constantly full.  Not only are we trying to take care of our own lives, pay the bills, keep up with the laundry, keep the household in order, and make sure food is on the table, but we also have young lives to worry about.  There may be daycare or school, activity schedules, day-to-day care and the most important part, doing our best just to raise our children to be good human beings.

Just looking at that list exhausts me.  Doesn’t it you?

Since getting through each day can be a struggle in itself, it’s no surprise that less than 50% of the U.S. population-not just young families- have no estate plan in place.  We all have better things to do, right?

The reality is, you really don’t.  Do you know what will happen to your children if you die unexpectedly?  Most people don’t know. So, read on to find out!


If something were to happen to you and your spouse before your children are 18, someone would have to take over the care of your children.  That could be the state, but most of us hope it’s not. Or, that could be someone you know and trust that you name in your estate plan to care for them.

The Court process someone, who is usually not a parent, of a child goes through to gain custody of a child is called Guardianship.

If you are a parent of a child with Special Needs, you also need to become familiar with this term.  Because, if a child becomes an adult who cannot care for his or herself, then, even if you are the parent of that person, once the child with Special Needs turns 18, you will need a Guardianship to continue to manage your child’s care, assets, and resources.

Guardianship requires that the person asking for Guardianship complete a background check, file a Petition with the Court stating the reasons a guardianship is needed, send notice to all interested parties, and have a hearing with the Court to determine if the person is qualified to serve as Guardian.

There will be lots of checking in with the Court over the years and the Guardian will have to keep a ledger of any assets the person they have Guardianship over has and how those assets have been spent or managed.

In other words, Guardianship can be pretty heavy stuff and a lot to deal with.  So, if you’re a healthy, young, functioning parent, why does that matter to you?

Naming a Guardian in Your Estate Plan

As parents. our first concern is always to take care of our children the best we can.  That responsibility doesn’t end immediately when we hit the grave, not if our children are still under 18, anyway.

If you and your spouse die and have no estate plans in place for your family to show police and child welfare workers to prove your wishes for custody of your children, chances are far higher your children will be taken into state custody. I’m pretty certain none of us want that.

So, as a bare minimum, we parents should consider who we would want to care for our children if the worst happened to us.  This is especially important if you have any misgivings about certain family members trying to gain custody of your kids for any reason.  Because, without your plan in place to show your family and a Court what you want for your children, anyone can step up, or be chosen by the state to step up, to care for your children.

When choosing a Guardian, consider who you trust.  Pick someone who holds values you respect.  And, most importantly, pick someone who is young enough to handle the job, at least as an alternate or Co-Guardian if your first choice is a grandparent.

If you do not have plans in place for child custody if something happens to you, reach out to a professional for help today!


In the Wake of His Death, Stan Lee’s Strained Family Relations May Impact His Estate

By: Sarah Stewart Legal Group

Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Any superhero or comic book fan is familiar with Stanley Martin Lieber, otherwise known as Stan Lee.  He is the powerhouse co-creator behind most of the Marvel comic book characters that we all know and love.  From Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, and Spiderman to the X-Men, Stan Lee created superheroes that families have, and will, enjoy for generations.

The entire Marvel fandom mourned when Stan Lee’s death was announced on November 12, 2018. It has been reported that Stan Lee left an estate between $50-80 million behind. Stan was survived by one brother, Larry Lieber, and one daughter, Joan Celia (JC) Lee.

Over the last few years, reports have surfaced of strife within the Lee family.  There were lawsuits filed among confidantes, reports of elder abuse, and allegations of undue influence by friends and family just this year.

Stan signed an Affidavit in February stating he and his wife supported JC Lee throughout her life, and he was concerned that she couldn’t properly handle money matters.  The declaration also claimed JC demanded Stan Lee convey family property to her and consult her before making changes to his estate plan.

Reports of physical altercations between Stan, his wife, and JC about money have surfaced.  Due to these problems, Stan’s declaration stated JC, and several other named individuals, were not allowed to serve as an administrator over his trust, or any other assets of his estate. It is unclear at this time if the Declaration would be held valid in a California court if questioned.

Though reports have indicated Stan Lee had a Trust, Power of Attorney, and other estate planning documents, the extent of his estate planning remains unknown at this time.  If Stan Lee did not have a Trust in place, or did not properly title his assets into his Trust, the estate will likely have to go through a Court procedure called probate.

Under a probate, if Stan Lee had a Will, the terms of the Will govern the outcome of the litigation, unless undue influence or fraud are proven to be present at the time the Will was signed.  If no Will or other estate planning documents exist, the laws of the State of California will dictate who manages the assets of the estate and who receives the distributions of the estate. There won’t be much family members can do to change those distributions.

Given Stan Lee’s declarations, and the reports over the past few years, a probate could get messy.  And, if he didn’t properly plan, his true wishes, as outlined in his Declaration, may not be followed.

Keep your eyes and ears open in the next few months to see how this saga will play out. It will be an interesting case study to help you see what can happen in the legal world of estate planning.

But, in the meantime, contact your trusted professionals to make sure your estate plan is in order and that your wishes for your own family will be followed.


4 Ways to Reduce Financial Stress

By Sarah Stewart Legal Group, PLLC

Though money matters are a constant area of concern for many, with the Holidays quickly approaching, more people are finding themselves stressed out about their finances. Decorating for the Holidays, buying gifts for loved ones, and financing Holiday travel and plans can burden your checkbook.

Once the storm of the Holiday season passes, the beginning of the new year brings optimism and a chance to set out your financial goals and plans for yourself and your family.

Here are 4 ways to relieve financial stress and set your goals for the new year:

(1) Build Your Foundation

Decide what you value and need most.  Prioritize these financial goals.  Remember to focus on your most important numbers:  (1) what you earn, (2) what you spend, and (3) what you owe, when making your budget.  Your budget will center around these numbers.

Once you have your budget lined out, you need to follow up with

(a) an emergency fund,

(b) a plan to reduce your debt,

(c) deciding how much insurance protection you need to protect your family, and

(d) getting an estate plan in place.

After your foundation is in place, you can confidently move forward with your goals.

(2) Take Action

Planning is wonderful start, but in the end, a plan is only as good as the steps you take to see it through. Once you have your goals and plan in place, take steps to automate your actions and make following through as easy as possible for you.

Many banks allow you to set up automatic payments and withdrawals to savings.  Set these up for your specific goals and watch your dreams come true!

(3) Review Your Progress

It can be easy to make a plan, set things on autopilot, and then forget about it.  But, forgetting about your financial and estate plans can cause you trouble in the long run.

Make a point to review your goals and progress annually with your trusted advisors.  They can help you decide if important life changes have happened that require fine-tuning or if more money can be put toward a specific financial goal.

And, let’s be honest, sometimes we change our minds.  Annual reviews allow us to be sure we are still focusing on what is most important to us.

(4) Don’t Forget Life’s Transitions

Life is full of ups and downs.  The joy of retirement, a new marriage, or birth. The sadness of job loss, a divorce, or death.

Transitions are rarely easy, but if you plan for them, it makes them easier. Your trusted advisors can help you manage your plans during life’s transitions.

Planning can be complicated.  It takes time, thought, and effort.  Many of us do not want to think about it, or think we have all the time in the world.  And we do have all the time in the world, until, all of a sudden, we don’t.

We all know the days are short but the years are long.  The sooner you can plan for your family and future, the sooner you can spend your time enjoying the most important things in your life- the people and the experiences- and spend less time worrying and wondering about where you’re going or if your family will be taken care of when something happens to you.

Reach out to your trusted attorneys and financial planners today and start your plan!

Estate Planning to Protect Your Children’s Inheritance from Divorce

By Sarah Stewart Legal Group, PLLC

When we make our estate plans, most of us plan for what we hope, or expect, to happen.  We plan as though everything will march along merrily as it has until this point.  Our marriages will last and our children’s marriages will last.

The reality is, about 50% of American marriages end in divorce.  If you want to leave a significant amount of wealth to your children, you need to plan for the chance your child’s marriage will end.

If you have a trust, a strategy that can keep your children’s inheritance out of the hand of creditors and ex spouses is to give Trustees full discretion over distributions.  This way, heirs don’t receive one, lump sum that spouses can seek in a divorce.

Though issues can come from giving Trustees so much discretion, there are ways to structure a trust to allow for a Trustee’s removal if the Trustee acts unreasonably and to allow beneficiaries to request assets as needed from the Trustee.

Many Baby Boomer clients may find this type of planning beneficial for their goals.  Many Boomer clients have children in their 30s or 40s who are married, have been married, or will soon be married and must plan realistically for the possibility of divorce.  Also, Boomers have started a trend of delaying distributions to their children until the children are in their 30s or 40s, later than the usual age of 25.

Boomers tend to see younger generations as more entitled and lazier than their own.  Because of this, they want to protect their children from themselves by holding back distributions and ensuring distributions can be lost in a divorce.

Even with this level of planning, the children need to be educated on how to keep their separate assets separate.  If distributions are made from the Trust to the children, children should keep these distributions separate and not deposit them in a joint account with a spouse or significant other.

3 Planning Options to Fund Education

By Sarah Stewart Legal Group

When planning to help fund family members’ educations, you must be clear on your goals and purposes. Though setting up educational funding can be a simple process, your goals will determine what planning documents you should use.

Although a Will is an option to leave money to your loved ones, you cannot restrict the use of those funds in the same way you can with a trust.  So, if your goal is educational funding, you will want to focus on using trusts and other planning options.

(1) Pot Trusts

If you only want to have one trust with more than one beneficiary, a pot trust is an option.  The trust is set up so your beneficiaries can request money from the trust for certain, predetermined reasons, such as education.

The problem with this kind of trust is that beneficiaries can end up receiving unequal amounts of money from the trust. For instance, one beneficiary may go to a state school and receive scholarships for education, while another may go to a private school without any scholarships.

Though it may not be your intent, the beneficiary receiving the private school education, without help from scholarships, would receive far more money from the trust than the state school beneficiary.

Another important factor can be age gaps between beneficiaries. If the age gap is great enough, the youngest beneficiary may not have any money left from the trust to fund his or her education.

If equality among beneficiaries is not your greatest goal, a pot trust could be a good option for you.

But, if equality is a goal, another option is Separate Trusts for your intended beneficiaries.

(2) Separate Trusts

The benefit of using separate trusts for each beneficiary is the equality you can establish.  Each trust for each beneficiary can receive the exact same amount of money, to be used as you instruct. Of course, you could allot different amounts for each trust if you have reasons to do that as well.

The downfall of separate trusts is your private school student from the example above may not have all the money he or she needs to be able to fund his or her education fully. Separate trusts are better if your goal is equal treatment.  If your goal is fully funding educational endeavors, a pot trust may be a better fit.

(3) State 529 Plans

More than 30 states in the U.S. offer tax incentives for establishing 529 education savings plans in their states.  Some states even offer incentives for establishing a 529 plan in any state.

State 529 plans allow you to place money into an investment account for a beneficiary.  These plans will not allow you to restrict fund usage as much as you may like, but they are geared toward education and have flexibility regarding changing beneficiaries and the kinds of education for which the funds can be used.

If you want to fund your loved ones’ educations, you will need to plan to reach your goals.  Reach out to experienced professionals to help you decide what planning options best fit your situation.




3 Steps to Add a Charity to Your Estate Plan

By: Sarah Stewart Legal Group, PLLC

As you consider the legacy you want to leave behind through estate planning, charitable giving may blip on your radar.  Many of us have causes and organizations we want to support and impact.  If you are one of those people, the good news is incorporating charitable giving into your estate plan can be an easy process.

(1) Pick Your Charity

Think of the causes and organizations that are important to you.  Where have you donated time, money, or materials?  Are there causes that have impacted the people you love personally? What do you want your gift to contribute to the community?

Charitable giving is immensely personal.  There are a myriad of questions to consider for yourself before making a decision.  But, rest assured, you can plan for any and all organizations you want in your estate plan.

(2) Pick Your Gift

After you’ve decided where you want to donate and the goals you wish to accomplish, you can move on to deciding what you need to donate to meet those goals. If you wish to donate anything other than cash, be sure to reach out to the organization to be sure they accept that kind of donation.

Though many large charities have the means to accept property, stocks, bonds, and other personal assets for donations, many small or medium-sized charities may not have the ability to manage and/or sell those assets.  A simple phone call can help you determine the best assets for you to donate that will best benefit the organization.

(3) Pick How to Give Your Gift

Now that we’ve decided who and what, we have to decide how. Most estate planning documents allow you to designate a charity as a recipient of any or all of your assets.  But, your goals will help you determine the best vehicle to leave your assets to charity.

If you are looking for tax benefits, there are ways to accomplish that.  If you want more say over how your donation is used, there are ways to structure your planning to ensure your goals are met. Professionals can help you meet your goals.

Do you have a charity you want to support after your death?  Reach out to trusted estate and tax planning professionals to help you organize and achieve your goals for your cause.

Planning for 4 Important Life Stages

By Sarah Stewart Legal Group, PLLC

Generally, people will experience 4 different stages through their lives. Estate and financial planning are important for every stage of our lives.  But, certain aspects of planning are more crucial during different stages. Learning what to focus on and when can help you make the best plans possible for your life.

(1) Starter Stage

Budgeting is the most important skill to learn when we are just starting out. A well-planned budget allows individuals to live within their means and avoid getting trapped by credit cards and other debts.

Once the budget is mastered, plan for savings.  Start with emergency savings.  Inevitably, something important will break. Your car will need new brakes.  The hot water heater will go out.  The washing machine will flood.

Having an emergency savings of at least $1,000 can stop an emergency from derailing your budget and financial plan.

It is also wise to start putting away some money for retirement.  Compounding interest helps early investors get the most bang for their buck.  The more you can save the earlier, the better your outcome when you want to retire.

Unless you already have a family, life insurance is not as important at this stage of your life.  Put that money to better use elsewhere, like a good health insurance policy. Figure out a basic estate plan in case something were to happen to you.

(2) Family Stage

Once you have a family, in addition to budgeting, saving, and investing, you’ll want to ensure you have a good life insurance policy to cover them if something happens to you. Term life insurance gives you the most coverage for the lowest rates. Add you family to your health coverage.

Start to revise your budget as income and expenses increase.  Plan for short-term, mid-range, and long-term financial and personal goals. Find a financial advisor to help you focus on greater retirement investments.  If you don’t have an estate plan in place, get one.  Your family will be grateful if they need it.

(3) Growth Stage

During this stage of life, your income will increase and your costs will stabilize. Plan to maximize saving and investing during this stage of life. Restructure your retirement plan based on the extra money you can devote to your investments.

Update your insurance policies based on your current needs. Update your estate plan, taking into account marriages, divorces, deaths, births, and other life changes.  Consider new estate planning vehicles based on the amount of wealth you have accumulated.

As with all other stages, try to keep your debts as low as possible.

(4) Retirement Stage

The focus of your retirement years will be budgeting. You know how much is available to you and you will have to stay within that range to retire successfully.

Healthcare costs will increase, so invest in a good health insurance option.  Debt should be minimal and life insurance will only be critical to protect a spouse or live-in child.

Update your estate planning and financial documents and simplify your finances.  Consolidate accounts and organize your financial portfolio.

The best way to plan for each stage of life is to focus on the most crucial financial components during each stage of life.  Having a thorough financial and estate plan can help minimize costs and risks for you and your family.

Reach out to professionals today to start your financial and estate plans!


How Famous Rapper Mac Miller Planned for His Death

Picture by Clarke Tolton for

By Sarah Stewart Legal Group, PLLC

Malcolm James McCormick, the rapper and music producer known as Mac Miller, died on September 7 in California.  He was only 26 years old.

The rapper began his career at 14 under the name EZ Mac. In 2010, he signed with Rostrum Records and released his first album, Blue Slide Park in 2011. He went on to create several more albums over the span of his short career and became a highly-sought-after collaborator.  By the time of his death, he amassed more than $9 million in net worth.

Mac Miller was single and had no children, yet despite his youth, he learned from the errors other famous musicians made in their estate planning.  Mac Miller helped his family by pre-planning. He planned for his family after his death with a Will that left everything to a Trust.

Other famous musicians, including Prince and Aretha Franklin, did not properly plan for their assets after their deaths.  Prince died in 2016.  His family is still going through the court process of probate to try to distribute his assets. The process has been stressful, and no doubt, costly.  Aretha Franklin died in August 2018.  Her estate is currently going through the probate process as well.

When estates go through probate, it can take a long time.  Also, the public nature of the proceedings allow family members and sometimes even strangers, to make claims on the estate and delay the process even more.

Mac Miller’s estate will not have to go through the probate process, thanks to his advanced planning.  That means a Court will not have to oversee the division of the assets and notices will not be sent out that allow people to try to stake their claim to his estate.

Another benefit of Mac Miller using a Trust is that his wishes will remain private.  His family will not have to file documents that inventory his assets and who receives them in the court-which makes matters of the estate a public record.

Of course, a Trust is only as good as what you put in it.  When creating a trust, the person making the Trust must change the title of assets into the Trust’s name. Should an asset be missed, most Trust plans will include a Pour-Over Will.  The Will would be probated, but the assets would go straight into a Trust, keeping the assets and distributions private from the public eye.

If you haven’t created a plan for your family after your death, there is no better time than now!  Reach out to an estate planning professional today to get started!



6 Things You Can Do Now To Reduce Your Risk of Alzheimer’s and Dementia When You’re Older

By Sarah Stewart Legal Group, PLLC

Alzheimer’s and dementia affect the families of many of our clients.  In the later stages, these debilitating diseases often lead to complete physical dependency and lack of awareness of surroundings. The dependency caused by the disease requires families to step in and take over for their ailing loved one.

Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia are on the rise in the U.S. The Alzheimer’s organization reports there are currently 5.7 million people suffering from these illnesses. They estimate that by 2050, more than 14 million people will suffer from these diseases.

There is no cure for Alzheimer’s and it is hitting more people earlier and earlier in their lives and causing more and more families to devote their time and resources to caring for people suffering.

Luckily, studies are helping doctors understand behaviors that increase the risk of dementia.  With this knowledge, we can make choices in our own lives that will reduce our risk of developing the disease later in life.

(1) Control Blood Pressure

The World Alzheimer Report from 2014 discussed several studies that found people with high blood pressure had an increased risk of dementia. People with high blood pressure are also at an increased risk for stroke. Strokes cause the death of brain cells, which can also lead to Alzheimer’s.

How does this happen?  High blood pressure strains your arteries.  This makes the arteries’ walls stiffer and the passage for blood to flow through narrower. The stiffer, narrower walls restrict the amount of oxygen and essential nutrients that flow to your brain and damages your brain cells.

You may not notice if you have high blood pressure because it will not necessarily affect your day-to-day life.  Get your blood pressure checked every 5 years to make sure you are still on the right track.

Indicators for high blood pressure include being overweight, diets high in salt, excessive alcohol consumption, and smoking.

(2) Kick Those Butts

Smoking increases problems with your heart and blood vessels, which are linked to Alzheimer’s. Also, the toxins in cigarette smoke cause inflammation and oxidative stress, additional factors in Alzheimer’s.  According to the Alzheimer’s Society, smokers are 30 – 50% more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than non-smokers.

Luckily, when smokers kick the habit, the increased risk factors are gone.

(3) Cut the Sugar

Columbia University studied the affects of sugar on dementia.  They found that people who used more than 2 1/2 teaspoons per day in their foods or drinks were 54% more likely to get dementia than those who didn’t.

For those who enjoyed more than half a can of soda each day, there was a 47% increase in the risk of developing dementia.

The study concluded that adding more than 30 grams (the equivalent of one can of soda) of sugar to your diet daily increases your risk of dementia by 33%.

When you increase your blood sugar, you are also increasing your risk for diabetes. Changes in glucose metabolism affect both diabetes and Alzheimer’s and can cause changes to your brain. Any excess sugar, whether from soda or fruit juice, can have the same affect.

(4) Protect Your Head

When people get hit in the head constantly, it can cause mini strokes, and strokes increase your risk of dementia. Repeated hits to the head can cause the central nervous system to become inflamed and lead to tau buildup- a protein that can cause memory loss, aggressive behavior, confusion, depression, and dementia.

Keep your head protected if you do contact sports.  If you do get a severe hit to the head, seek medical attention.  Follow your doctor’s advice about when to return to the sport.

(5) Exercise

A Cardiff University study found that exercising greatly reduces the risk of dementia. The study found that participants who developed 4 out of 5 healthy behaviors- exercising regularly, quitting smoking, keeping a healthy weight, and drinking little alcohol- reduced their risk of developing dementia by 60%.

As a bonus, adopting the healthier lifestyle reduced the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and stroke by 70% over those who did not have any of the studied healthy behaviors.

Exercise caused a greater reduction of health risks than any other single factor. When reviewing clinical trials, the Alzheimer’s Society found one month of regular exercise- just 20 – 30 minutes, several times per week- improved processing speed, attention, and memory in participants.

(6) Exercise Your Brain

Keeping you brain active regularly increases your brain health.  Studies found bi-lingual people developed dementia more than 4 years later than people who only knew one language. In addition, playing an instrument lowers your risk of dementia by 36%.

If language or music aren’t your forte, doctors suggest counting backward from 100 in 2s,3s, or 4s, while doing something else, such as tapping your hand on your thigh. You can also exercise your brain with problems at work or crossword puzzles.


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