Sarah Stewart Legal Group, PLLC

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Category: Legal (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!

6 Ways to Protect Yourself from Your Greatest Liability- Your Vehicle

By: Sarah Stewart Legal Group, PLLC

The National Safety Council estimates that 4.57 million people were injured in automobile accidents in 2017. And more than 40,000 people died from car crashes. With such high numbers, the odds of someone in your household getting into an accident are pretty high.

Liability for auto accidents can bankrupt the person at fault, or the person who owns the vehicle in the crash.  So, how can you protect yourself from liability for your automobiles?

(1) Don’t Put Your Name on a Vehicle You’re Not Driving

If you buy a vehicle for your child, who is over the age of 18, put the vehicle in his or her name.  If you loaned your child money to buy the car, you can place a lien on the car for repayment.  Consider titling vehicles in limited liability companies, or the name of a spouse who has fewer assets.

If a vehicle is in a crash, the other party will sue the owner of the vehicle.  They can only recover assets owned by the titled owner. So, placing automobile titles in the names of the drivers can limit your liability for accidents of your family members.

(2) Be Careful With Minor Drivers

If your driving children are under the age of 18, you can be sued for accidents they cause. Umbrella insurance plans can help alleviate some of the liability, but they, alone, may not be enough. Be sure that your children are responsible enough, and properly trained, to get behind the wheel before you let them drive.

(3) Protect Assets with a Plan

Anyone who owns assets should have a plan to protect them.  The complexity of that plan will depend on how many assets you own.  Make sure you have an estate plan and a plan to protect your assets.

You could own several businesses to limit liability, or title properties into the names of different spouses.  The planning possibilities can be limitless.  So, reach out to a trusted professional to help.

(4) Get Insurance

Be sure your umbrella policies address your business driving needs and cover others who may drive your vehicle.  You will want to have enough insurance to cover your assets.  So, if you have more assets, you will need more coverage. For minors, elderly, and those with mental or physical disabilities, consider higher coverage amounts.

Be aware that coverage does not include illegal situations.  Illegal situations can include drivers who are not listed driving the car and automobiles that were not listed in the coverage.

(5) Get Treatment Immediately

If you’re in an accident, don’t wait too long to seek medical attention.  Health problems that could be avoided with treatment can become far worse if left untreated too long. When you hit your head or have a broken bone, rush to your closest clinic or Emergency Room for treatment.

(6) Get Witness Information

If you are in an accident, be sure to get the names and contact info of any witnesses. If you can’t get names and phone numbers, take pictures of the license plates.  You will want to share this information with your insurance provider and attorney when the time comes.

Chances of you or someone in your household getting into a car wreck are high.  Make sure you and your family are protected.


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.


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!



3 Estate Planning Tips for Families with Businesses

By Sarah Stewart Legal Group, PLLC

Estate planning helps families preserve their assets and make sure they go to the right people at the right time if a family member dies or is unable to care for themselves. Estate planning can include a variety of documents and roadmaps to reach each individual’s planning goals.

Though estate planning is important for everyone, business owners face unique challenges when it comes to protecting their families and businesses if something happens to the owner. If you are a business owner, make a plan for your business to help your family.

(1) Pre-Plan

Entrepreneurs require more complex planning than their employee counterparts.  Not only do business owners have to plan for what happens to their families and things when they die, they also have to plan for their business.  As a responsible family member and business owner there are several items you want to consider to properly protect your business and family.

Disability Insurance

Disability insurance can replace your income if you become disabled due to illness or injury.  Call an insurance agent to find out how you can sign up and make sure you can still pay the bills if you become disabled.

Life Insurance

What would your family do if they lost your income?  Could they survive month-to-month?  If not, and let’s be honest, the answer is usually not, how much would your family need to pay the mortgage/rent, buy food, clothe themselves, and pay for utilities if you weren’t contributing? You need enough to cover those costs and add some extra cushion to help them get back on their feet after your death.

You will also want to consider life insurance to help keep the business alive while your family grieves.  Family members may not be educated in your business and may have to hire outside help or sell your business once you’re gone.  Consider the costs that will come with that and get life insurance to cover them.

Finding a Successor

You need to find someone who can take over if something happens to you.  If your family is involved in the business, figure out if anyone is interested in and capable of taking over. If you’re a solo entrepreneur, find someone to start grooming to take your place.

If you own your business with other people, think about how you would want your families to be bought out by your business partners and put it in your agreement.

(2) Document Your Plan

Though there are many places you can go to make these documents yourself, you will want and need the help of professionals.  This is not a place to cut corners. Sitting down with an actual person and talking through your plan will help you determine what documents and plan are best for you.

But, at minimum, you will need a will and/or trust, durable powers of attorney, healthcare directives, and proper beneficiary designations on your stocks, bonds, and other assets that allow such designations.

If you are in business with other people, I highly recommend a business agreement. This contract will discuss how/when owners can buy/sell their portions of the company and will discuss what happens when an owner is disabled or dies.  Without these documents, if owners disagree, courts will make these decisions for you.

(3) Talk About It

I understand that talking about death isn’t fun, but it is inevitable.  Talk to your family about your plan.  Tell them where they can find it if something happens to you.  Keep a list of passwords, accounts, assets, and debts in a safe place where they can access it when they need it.

Planning and thinking about the future without you in it can be difficult, but it is the best thing you can do for your family and business.


Easing the Financial Strain of Caregiving

By: Sarah Stewart Legal Group

Caregiving can be a thankless job.  As the U.S. Baby Boomer populations ages, more and more people are becoming caregivers for their aging family members.  According to the AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving, in 2015, about 13% of the population were caregivers for adults or children within the previous 12 months of the survey.

Caregivers often work full-time jobs and struggle to balance their own lives and families with the often additional full-time job of caring for their family member.  They usually receive little or no compensation for their time, and often pay out of their own pockets for their loved one’s needs.

If you are a caregiver, how can you ease the financial burdens that come with the territory of caring for your loved one?

An option for those who care for adults who receive some sort of benefits or income may be a caregiver agreement where a caregiver can be reimbursed for time and money spent caring for their family member. If these agreements are properly drafted, they can be used to “spend down” funds to qualify for Medicaid when the person receiving the care needs to.

If there is no agreement, any payments made to the caregiver may be seen as a “gift.”  In Oklahoma, the Medicaid “look-back period” is 5 years.  That means if any money or items were given to someone in that time period that are not subject to an exemption defined by the state, it could be counted against the individual trying to qualify for Medicaid or other benefits as a current asset.  That means the person seeking funding will have to wait until that money is “spent” down to the Medicaid qualification level to qualify.

Requirements for Caregiver Agreements

The agreement must be in writing and must be specific about the types of work the caregiver will do.  Will the caregiver be running errands? What kinds of errands?  Where is the loved one needing care living?  If with the caregiver, is the caregiver charging rent to the loved one?

What other, additional services will the caregiver provide?  Is the caregiver paying the bills for the family member?  Are they maintaining or repairing the house the loved one lives in?

Log Your Time and Expenses

Once you have the agreement in place, be sure to keep a detailed log of the time you spend providing the services.  If you pay for something out of pocket and want to be reimbursed, keep receipts. Keep records of the income you receive.  Payments to caregivers are generally counted as taxable income for tax purposes.

When caregivers assist their elderly family members, they are providing a benefit to the family member and the government by allowing that person to stay in their home for a longer period of time and decreasing the amount of care the government will have to pay for for the elderly loved one.

If you are in a situation where you can benefit from a caregiver agreement, reach out to a professional today!

These documents have strict requirements that must be met to ensure your loved one can qualify for government benefits when they need them. Do not try to do this on your own!

How to Protect Aging Loved Ones from Financial Scams and Abuse

By: Sarah Stewart Legal Group

The National Council on Aging reports that financial crimes against the elderly are “the crime of the 21st century.”  Financial crimes are becoming more common because law enforcement has difficulty finding the perpetrators and prosecuting them.  Criminals who financially abuse the elderly can be complete strangers or family members.

Some of the more popular scams in recent years include callers posing as the IRS, Medicare, and claiming a family member has been kidnapped when they haven’t.  These scammers try to force an unsuspecting caller to wire them money immediately and can even spoof a number to make the call look legitimate.

These scammers target people who have worked hard their entire lives to be able to retire in peace, people like our friend Ann. Ann and her husband were married for 40 years when he died.  They worked together to build a nice nest egg that allowed Ann to retire comfortably soon after his death.

Recently, Ann got a call.  On the other end of the line was a man who said he was from the IRS.  He claimed Ann owed the IRS $10,000 in back taxes.  If she did not pay immediately, the IRS would send someone to her home to arrest her.  Ann had never had problems with the IRS before and was, understandably, shaken.

She drove to her local bank branch while she was on the phone with the man, to try to wire the money to him as he requested.  Luckily, an observant bank teller noticed that Ann seemed distressed.  She was able to speak to Ann about the situation and assure her that the man on the phone was not with the IRS. Ann was able to keep her money that day. Many people are not that lucky.

As loved ones age, their ability to recognize these kinds of scams can diminish.  If families are concerned that their elderly loved ones may fall victim to financial abuse and scams, they can help protect them by convincing them to put an estate plan in place.

Everyone has heard of Wills and Trusts and planning for your family after your death, but many of us may not be aware of the fact that estate planning does more.  For elderly family members, estate plans allow trusted loved ones to be aware of the financial health of the aging person and help protect them.

Estate plans usually include documents that allow people to choose others to act for them when they are unable to act on their own.  These documents can include specific provisions about managing bank accounts and other assets to ensure the aging person does not fall prey to predators.

After putting an estate plan into place, be sure to list all of the companies the person holds assets with- banks, retirement accounts, stocks, bonds, insurance accounts, etc.  Also, make a list of trusted advisors- attorneys, accountants, financial planners, etc.  These lists will make it easier for family to step in when an elderly loved one needs them to take over.

Talk to your elderly loved ones about their plans today.  If they have a plan, one that may be older, review the plan and make sure they don’t need to make any changes.

Have these conversations now and get these plans complete before it’s too late!

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