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Category: Estate Planning (Page 2 of 5)

8 Tips for Managing Your Finances After a Divorce

By Sarah Stewart Legal Group

Divorces are seldom simple and neat.  Complex and contentious divorces can take years to resolve.  As if the Court process itself weren’t enough, when your divorce is finally complete, outside of basic items, such as changing your name and address, there are several financial issues you will need to take care of as well.

(1) Credit Issues

Be sure to cancel all joint accounts you held with your now-ex-spouse. You will need to set up separate accounts in your name only.

(2) Take Your Spouse’s Name Off Accounts As Beneficiary

You need to update your estate planning documents and contact your financial planner and banker to take your ex-spouse’s name off any beneficiary designations. You don’t want your ex benefiting from your death. Check all life insurance policies, retirement, pensions, annuities, and stocks to ensure you have disinherited your ex-spouse.

(3) Divide Retirement Accounts By Court Order (QDRO)

A Qualified Domestic Relations Order from your Court will be necessary to split retirement assets obtained through the marriage.  Have a professional help you work this out with your ex.

(4) Make Sure You Get Your Awarded Child and Spousal Support

In Oklahoma, the Department of Human Services provides a service where they will automatically withdraw your child support from your ex-spouse’s account for a minimal fee. They will also keep track of your ex-spouse if they change jobs and enforce your child support orders and collect back child support.  If your ex is unreliable, this is a great option!

For spousal support, can you arrange an automatic withdrawal in your Court order?  Make collection as easy as possible for both of you.

(5) Refinance or Sell Real Estate

If the Court ordered that you could keep certain real estate, make sure it is re-titled in your name only and refinance the property into your name as well.  If the court ordered a sell, get the property on the market.

(6) Get Health Insurance

If your ex covered you under their policy, you will need to get individual insurance to cover yourself.

(7) Budget

Your income is likely to take a dip since you will be living on one income instead of two.  Be sure to put pen to paper and come up with a reasonable budget for your new situation.

(8) Avengers Assemble

Pick a strong team of professionals to help you organize and plan your financial future.  You will need attorneys, financial planners, tax professionals, and other skilled professionals to help your journey.  Assemble that team of avenging superheroes now!

Speak to your divorce attorney about preparing your Order so that your ex will not shirk his or her responsibilities to you, such as signing documents to transfer property to you.

The best Defense is a strong Offense.  You know the points where your ex may be weak or unreliable.  Think those weaknesses through strategically and plan for them in your Court order to save yourself future headaches and stress!

3 Reasons Millennials Should Make Wealth and Estate Plans

By Sarah Stewart Legal Group

A lot of people avoid planning for their wealth and estates.  They, mistakenly, believe that estate and wealth planning are tools made only for the wealthy.

But, whether you have $50,000 or $5 million, planning is crucial for building wealth and to provide security, cost-savings, and peace for your loved ones after you’re gone.

There are 3 good reasons Millennials should plan for their estates and their wealth with a professional today:

(1) You Still Have Responsibilities After You Die

The government and creditors will try to collect what you owe them from your estate when you’re gone.

Someone will have to pay your income taxes for the year you died, property taxes on real estate you own, and possibly, state or federal estate taxes for your estate. Your estate plan will help your family manage these obstacles when you’re gone.

(2) Do-it-Yourself Estate Plans Are Not A Good Idea

Everyone’s estate is a little bit different.  We all own different kinds of property and have specific wishes for what we want to happen to that property when we die.  Online forms and services are one-size-fits-all solutions to a diverse field.

If you make a mistake in your estate plan today, your heirs will have to pay for it tomorrow, when you’re gone. There are so many deep, complex issues to consider that estate and wealth planning on your own is not the best route.  Speak to professionals to get your wishes in order.

(3) Digital Assets

We gain a lot of property throughout our lives.  Millennials should begin thinking of who they want to receive their 401ks, bitcoins, and other assets while they’re acquiring them, and name beneficiaries for the assets they can from the beginning.

Other types of digital assets require planning as well.  Who will manage and close your social media accounts, online payment accounts, and money-making assets such as blogs and online stores?

These issues need to be addressed in modern estate plans.

There are so many considerations in estate and wealth planning.  There is no better time to reach out to professionals and start than now!

3 Ways the New Tax Law Can Affect Your Family’s Wealth Plan

By Sarah Stewart Legal Group

Most of us are aware that Congress passed a new tax bill for the 2017 tax year.  The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 will affect most of us come tax time.  But, how will the new law affect your family’s wealth and estate plan?

We discuss 3 ways the act can affect your family’s planning below.

(1) Annual Gifting

The Federal government allows everyone a set amount of money they can gift, per person, each year without the gifts cutting into their estate tax exclusion.  The new tax law still allows for annual gifting.  However, the amount each person can gift each year increased from $14,000 to $15,000 per gift.

The gift exemption can become a little stickier for those needing long-term care.  Keep in mind that those who receive Medicaid for long-term care may have these gifts counted against them for Medicaid qualification purposes.  In Oklahoma, the look-back period is 5 years and any gifts made in the prior 5 years will have to be paid back to, or counted against the assets of, the person attempting to qualify for Medicaid.

(2) Inheritance and the Adjusted Basis

Another area of the law that stayed the same is the adjusted basis for those who inherit assets that have gained value during the deceased’s life.  This rule allows heirs to avoid capital gains taxes on assets that have increased in value.  The rule applies to estates of all sizes.

(3) Estate Taxes

The greatest change in the new tax law affects the estate tax, positively, for high-wealth families.  The threshold for having to pay estate taxes has almost doubled with the new law from about $5.9 million per person before, to $11 million per person now.

For couples, the exemption amount is $22 million.  The exemption applies to estates from December 31, 2017 to January 1, 2026.

For more information on how these, and other parts of the tax law, affect you and your family’s wealth plan, consult a professional.

4 Considerations to Help You Plan For Your Bitcoins When You Die

By Sarah Stewart Legal Group

Cryptocurrency and Bitcoin have quickly become household names.  From a meager beginning not even a decade ago, the currencies have reached astounding popularity.

In 2009, Satoshi Nakamoto created the first ever cryptocurrency known as Bitcoin and the Bitcoin network. In 2011, other cryptocurrencies were created. By October 2012, more than 1,000 companies accepted Bitcoin as payment for goods and services.

In 2013, the coins were selling for $22 per coin, increasing to $160 per coin by the end of the year. In December of 2017,  the coins were worth $14,000 a piece and more than 160,000 merchants accepted the coins as payment for goods and services.

The extreme popularity and surges in value of the coin has begged the question, how do the owners plan for the transfer of the coins when they die?

Estate Planning for Bitcoin, other Cryptocurrencies, and Digital Assets

Since cryptocurrencies and other kinds of digital assets, such as travel and reward programs, are constantly changing, they are usually not addressed in typical estate planning documents like Wills and Trusts.

But, as with other assets that we own, digital assets are still a very real and important part of our lives.  As such, they deserve the same consideration and planning about where they should go after our deaths as any other assets we own. We must be proactive in planning their transfer and creating the documents we need to help our loved ones navigate our digital assets.

Digital Trustees

One option is to appoint a digital trustee in your Will or trust to exclusively handle the transfer of your digital assets. In selecting this special trustee, you would want to be sure they are technologically savvy and trustworthy.  You would also want to be sure to leave them clear directions on how you want your digital assets transferred.

List of Assets

For any estate plan, knowledge of where the assets are held is crucial.  But, this is probably even more true of digital assets.  Trustees will need to know where you are enrolled in rewards and travel programs and where other digital assets are held.  These items are fairly easy to transfer, but the trustee has to know where to find them.


Some assets, such as cryptocurrencies, require a password.  So, keeping a list of all of your current passwords, whether on paper, online, or on a computer or other device where your trustee can gain access, is vital for transfers. Cryptocurrencies generally do not keep a centralized registry, so loss of these passwords can lead to a large loss of assets for your loved ones.

Passwords should not be kept in Wills because Wills have to be probated and are listed publicly upon the creator’s death.  That means anyone with the knowledge of how to access a Court case could find your passwords and transfer your accounts.

Good options for password storage include online password management systems or wallets; having a secure document on your computer or other device that your trustee knows how to access; or providing a paper document kept somewhere safe, along with your other planning documents.

Specific Rules for Each Account

Many digital accounts will have separate, specific rules for transferring ownership.  So, your trustee will have to be able to understand each company’s specific rules and follow their directions to transfer your property to your loved ones. Make sure you choose a trustee who can handle this responsibility.

Bitcoin and other digital assets are growing in popularity.  They continue to change and evolve.  So, it is important to have a plan in place for these assets at your death.

3 Intangible Benefits of Estate Planning

By Sarah Stewart Legal Group

We spend a lot of time discussing the tangible benefits of estate planning and the different types of planning tools on this blog.  An estate plan is a valuable part of everyone’s life and end-of-life plan.

Though the tangible benefits are varied and important, the intangible benefits of your estate plan can be just as valuable.  Today, we discuss 3 intangible benefits of creating your estate plan.

(1) Ease Pain and Grief of Loved Ones

Though it is never easy to lose a loved one, having a well-thought-out estate plan can ease a lot of pain, stress, and grief for your loved ones after your death.  Few things can add more stress to an already stressful situation than having to wade through mountains of documents, looking for assets, liabilities, and any evidence of an estate plan, or lack thereof.

One of the best gifts you can give your loved ones after your death is a plan for your assets and a list of your assets and debts, in an easy-to-find and access location. It will save your family hours of stress and the pain of sifting through all your belongings, and reliving countless old memories, just to find the things they need.

(2) Inspire Family Reflection

Estate planning requires focus, attention, and deliberate thought about one’s values and loved ones.  Some may be inspired through the process to write a memoir, or share family history and memories with loved ones. Some decide to write letters to their family members and friends telling them how important they are to the planner.  Estate planning can lead to a renewed sense of family, love and belonging.

(3) Repair Relationships

Since estate planning brings up memories of the people we have known and loved in our lives, it is not uncommon for the process of estate planning to repair interpersonal relationships. As people begin the process of thinking about who and what is important to them in their lives, they can recognize the people and areas of their lives where they feel they have lost something.  Sometimes, they will work to improve or fix that relationship or area of their lives, enriching the lives that they currently live.

Estate planning can be a difficult and time-consuming process for many.  Attorneys, financial planners, and tax professionals all have professional knowledge and experience that can only help you in your process.

Let 2018 be the year you explore the tangible and intangible benefits of having your estate plan in order.

7 Things To Do When Your Loved One Dies

By Sarah Stewart Legal Group

Few things in life are harder than losing someone you love.  Grieving is hard enough, but many times, loved ones are left to not only grieve, but also sort through and take care of the assets of the deceased.

In those sad, stressful, cloudy moments after your loved one dies, what should you do to start the process of distributing your loved one’s estate?

(1) Find Their Estate Plan

The most helpful documents someone can prepare for their family are estate planning documents.  An estate plan can include a Will, Revocable Trust, Irrevocable Trust, Durable Power of Attorney, and other documents.

Since Durable Powers of Attorney are invalid after a person dies, you will want to search for Will or Trust documents.  Look in safety deposit boxes, fireproof safes in the home, and other well-know places for safe keeping of important documents.

(2) Create an Inventory of Their  Assets

You will need to determine if you will need to file a probate.  One way to help you decide, and also help you prepare if a probate is necessary, is to create an inventory of the deceased’s assets.  Make a list of all real estate, bank accounts, stocks, bonds, automobiles, expensive furniture, expensive furs, expensive jewelry, and other notable assets. If these items are valued at more than $50,000, include real estate, and aren’t jointly owned or held in a trust, beneficiaries aren’t named, or beneficiaries are deceased, you will need to file probate.

(3) Determine Jointly Owned Assets and Assets with Beneficiaries

Any assets in this category will pass outside of probate.  Most assets that are jointly owned, held in trust, or have named beneficiaries can be transferred with a Death Certificate immediately after death.  Life insurance policies, retirement accounts, bank accounts, and stocks and bonds often have beneficiaries named.

(4) Determine the Deceased’s Creditors

You will need to look through the deceased’s mail to determine creditors.  You are not personally liable for any of the deceased’s debts, but the estate is.  So, any money that is left over from the deceased will go to paying these expenses to the extent possible.

(5) Find Real Estate Documents

You will need the Deeds of any real estate to help you determine what the deceased owned and transfer that property. The deeds will also help you determine if the property was owned jointly, or in a Trust, and does not need to go through probate, or if it will have to go through a probate procedure in your local courts.

(6) Forward all Mail

You will need to forward the deceased’s mail so you can keep track of assets and creditors.  The easiest way to do this is to forward their mail to you.

(7) File Probate

If you have identified property that was not held in Trust, owned jointly, or with beneficiaries, it is likely you will need to file probate.  Probate is a Court procedure in the County (or one of them) where property is located in the State of Oklahoma.

There are different options available for different sized estates with different waiting periods and requirements. If probate is necessary, we suggest reaching out to an attorney to learn about your options.

New Developments in Probate Case Highlight Aaron Hernandez’s Family Wealth and Estate Plan

By Sarah Stewart Legal Group

We are all familiar with the name Aaron Hernandez, but allow me to give you a brief reminder.  Hernandez played tight end for the New England Patriots.  His career came to a screeching halt in 2013 when he made national headlines for his indictment in the murder of Odin Lloyd.  In 2015, Hernandez was found guilty of first-degree murder in the Lloyd death and charged with 2 additional counts of murder for a 2012 double homicide in Boston.

His trial for the double-murder began in March 2017.  In April, shortly after he was acquitted in the Boston deaths, he was found dead in his jail cell, apparently from suicide.

Since his death, his estate has been burdened with debt and other problems.  Recently, the Judge in his estate case, ordered disclosure of a secret trust, set up by Hernandez on behalf of his 5 year old daughter.  The “AJH Irrevocable Trust” is rumored to house many of Hernandez’s assets to protect them on his daughter’s behalf from his creditors.

Hernandez’s estate is insolvent, in that he owes roughly $2.8 million in debts, but only has $1.2 million in assets.  The trust, unless found to be a fraudulent conveyance to thwart creditors, will fall outside of the estate and be free from the creditors’ grasps.

An irrevocable trust is a vehicle where the creator gives certain assets to a trustee to hold for the benefit of one or more beneficiaries.  Since the assets are no longer within the creator’s control, they are no longer subject to the creator’s creditor claims. This was a smart move on Hernandez’s part, since the families of the 3 murder victims are bringing law suits, his attorneys are calling in their legal fees, and the government is issuing tax liens on his property.

Trusts are living, changing documents that can be twisted and turned to meet the drafter’s wishes, whatever they may be.  Trusts of any kind are useful tools to consider in your own family wealth and estate plans.

5 Tips for New Parents to Prepare for Baby

By Sarah Stewart Legal Group

A new baby brings parents so much joy. There are so many things you have to do to prepare- get baby clothes, diapers, bedding, design a nursery, just to name a few. The list seems never-ending.

Usually one of the last, but most important, items on a new parents’ to-do list is to get their financial and legal plans in order.   We’ll cover the 5 most important ways to prepare for new baby legally and financially today.

(1) Get Life Insurance

Life Insurance serves a very specific purpose. Life Insurance allows you to protect your family financially and prepare if something happens to you.  Life insurance helps your children pay for college and/or your spouse take care of the day-to-day necessities, like daycare, food, and shelter, if you are not there to contribute.

(2) Set Up A Monthly Automatic Draft Deposit for Savings

Many banking institutions allow you to schedule a monthly draft from your checking account to your savings account. Set up a high yield savings account with a monthly draft you can afford so you can guarantee you are building your emergency fund.  Experts recommend having 3 to 6 months of bills in savings in case an emergency arises. Even a small monthly amount will add up over time.

(3) Make an Estate Plan

Now that you have a bouncing bundle of joy on the way, you need to think about who will take care of him or her if you and your spouse die.  It is not a pleasant thought, but it is much better to decide now than to not have made the decision at all if that day comes sooner than you expected.

You will also want to be sure you have a plan in place for how your money will be spent for your children’s care.  Without a trust, the money will go to the children’s Guardian, or the children if they are 18, as soon as you die.  If you want to make sure the money is protected, or have specific wishes for when the children can access the money, you will need a Trust to enforce those wishes.

(4) Reduce Debt

One of the greatest scams of all time is credit card debt.  Anyone who has suffered from stifling credit card debt knows the downfalls of using credit cards for purchases.  Having a baby will only accelerate those problems.  Make a plan and budget now to help you be free from debt.

(5) Put Money Aside for Baby

Whether you choose a simple free savings account with your local bank, or a 529 education savings plan for advanced education, it is important to have some money stashed away for your child’s future-whether that future be education, entrepreneurship, or traveling the world.  Over 18 years (or more), even a small monthly savings can add up.  So, start saving today.

A new baby brings so much joy, excitement, and responsibility.  Be sure to use this guide to prepare for your baby and your financial future.

Tips for Slaying 6 Financial Planning Monsters

By Sarah Stewart Legal Group

Retirement can seem so far away, until…well, it isn’t.  When planning for your financial future, there are 6 monsters that can steal your security and peace in your golden years.

(1) Living Paycheck to Paycheck

Are you one of many Americans who finds yourself with no money left after paying your bills at the end of the month? Do you have an emergency fund available?

You may need to budget so you can stash some cash away for your future.  Track your expenses and income for a few months to see where your money goes.  Is there anything you can cut back?

Determine what you need and what you want. Cut back on the entertainment and eating out expenses you have each month and put some money away for emergencies. Strive to have at least 3 months of monthly expenses in savings for an emergency fund.

(2) Reduce Debt

The average American family is drowning in credit card debt, student loans, and mortgages.  Credit card debt is the worst debt you can have.  Interest rates are generally high, and the continual compounding of the interest rates and new debt make it almost impossible to get out of debt when you start.  Cut up your credit cards now and vow not to take on anymore credit card debt.

Pay the minimum monthly payment on each card and work on paying down the lowest balance as soon as possible.  Once that one is paid, apply all the money you were paying to that card to the next highest balance until it’s paid off.  Continue until you are free of credit card debt. Don’t forget to check your credit report annually for fraudulent accounts.

(3) Retirement Planning

Have you planned how much money you will need for retirement?  Have you set retirement goals?  Most employees will fund a 401k through their company, hopefully, the company will make contributions as well.  Find out how much you can put in your account each year and how much your company matches.  Consider using other retirement planning tools as well.

(4) Estate Planning

Many people avoid thinking about estate planning.  They tend to think they’re too young, their estate is too small, or they just don’t understand the process.

Estate planning is more than deciding who gets what when you die.  A good estate plan will also help you plan in case you are unable to make decisions for yourself and decide who will care for your children, and how, if something happens to you. If you already have an estate plan, be sure to review it when major life changes occur so you can be sure it still reflects your wishes.

(5) Planning for Long-Term Care

Long-term care is common for the elderly in today’s world.  With government options like Medicaid constantly on the chopping block, your safest option is to rely on yourself to fund your care. Facilities can cost anywhere from $40,000 – $70,000 per year, depending on the level of care you need and the options and luxury you’re looking for in end of life care. Make sure to budget for the possibility of long-term care in your retirement plan and consider long-term care insurance.

(6) Forgetting to Plan

Be sure to create a financial plan that includes all the aspects of planning we covered here.  A sound financial plan with estate and insurance planning can help you avoid any pitfalls.

3 Reasons to Have an Estate Plan Even With an Estate Tax Repeal

By Sarah Stewart Legal Group

One of the biggest current national headlines is the political discussion regarding changing tax laws and abolishing estate (“Death”) taxes at a Federal level.  Though such a repeal can be beneficial to high income families, don’t fall into the trap of believing an estate tax repeal means you do not need to plan for your estate.

Today, we discuss 3 reasons to make an estate plan, regardless of a Federal estate tax repeal.

(1) You Want to Choose Who Gets What

If you want to choose who gets your assets when you die, you need an estate plan.  Abolishing estate taxes will not change local laws that direct who gets what when someone dies without a plan in place. If you don’t decide, the government will.

If you have a blended, or complicated, family situation, it is even more important to get an estate plan in place.  Families where parents have more than one marriage are well known for having conflicts when the parent dies.  We can all recall cases like Anna Nicole Smith and her battle to access her late husband’s assets.  Putting a strong plan into place can help alleviate problems, and fights, for your family in the future.

(2) Your State May Have Estate Taxes

Getting rid of the Federal Estate Tax will not ensure estate taxes will be gone nationally.  Each state makes their own laws for estate taxes. Often, states that do have estate taxes have a much lower exemption amount than the Federal law.  In Oklahoma, we have not had an estate tax for years, but if you own property in other states, you may be subject to a state estate tax after your death.

The District of Columbia and 14 other states have estate taxes.  At least 6 states tax recipients of gifts under an inheritance tax.  Be sure to check the local laws of the states you have property in to decide if you will need a plan for estate taxes.

(3) Planning for Federal Taxes

Estate taxes are not the only Federal tax concerns of families whose loved one has died.  Repealing the tax will not do away with other federal taxes such as the capital gains tax and the taxes on heirs who receive inheritances.  You will still need to be aware of your potential tax liability and how to minimize your liability.

If the estate tax repeal passes, it will help simplify Federal taxes for some U.S. families.  However, the repeal is not an excuse to skip estate planning.  Every family needs to make a plan for their deaths.  Plans alleviate the stress and heartache your family will have after your death and gives you the power to decide for yourself how your well-earned money will be split.

Reach out to professionals to help you plan for your family today!

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