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Category: Oklahoma Families (Page 1 of 2)

Lessons from Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade on Planning for Your Estate When You’re Separated

Photo: Laurie Woolever/Grub Street

Photo: Wendy Maeda / The Boston Globe via Getty

By: Sarah Stewart Legal Group

The world was rocked this month with the news of the suicides of TV Personality and Chef, Anthony Bourdain and Fashion Designer, Kate Spade. Though the two share their tragic means of death, they also share something else.

When they died, both Bourdain and Spade were separated from their spouses.  Separations don’t only lead to legal battles in divorce court, they can also cause a whole new set of problems for estate planning.

When couples choose to remain separated for a longer period of time and don’t finalize a divorce, they open their families up to complex, and often, messy legal issues if one of them dies.

Deciding on Separation Instead of Divorce

Studies show more and more families are choosing to separate permanently instead of filing for divorce.  Bourdain was open about his choice to separate from, but not divorce, his wife of many years.

He stated in a People Magazine article in 2016 that his choice to separate permanently was based on his belief it led to a better co-parenting relationship of his child with his wife.

Though the concept may be nice for child-rearing, if possible, the arrangement has led to a hiccup in Bourdain’s funeral and estate planning.  By law, since they are still married, his wife is his beneficiary, and the person who makes decisions regarding his funeral and what happens to his remains.

It has been reported that his body will be cremated in France and the ashes shipped to the U.S. This decision may be difficult for family members who may have more of a stake and interest in funeral decisions than a wife he hasn’t lived with for several years.

Additionally, since she is still Bourdain’s wife, she will be eligible for certain Social Security and other benefits she would not have received had the couple divorced.  Benefits that may have gone to his child in other circumstances.

Kate Spade and her husband were reportedly separated when she died as well.  Her family will face similar challenges to Bourdain’s.

Proper Planning

If you choose to permanently separate instead of divorcing, there are some options to protect your estate.

(1) Healthcare Directives

If you are concerned that your spouse may be able to make healthcare decisions if you are unable to, you will want to consider putting an Advance Directive into place.

Although Oklahoma law does not provide that anyone can make those decisions without a valid Advance Directive or Court Order in place, in practice some facilities have policies that allow them to work with “closest kin.” Separated or not, if you’re married, that’s your spouse.

To protect yourself from that situation, you will want to implement a Healthcare Directive and choose a healthcare proxy to make those decisions.

(2) Trusts

Generally, couples separating are restrained from making any changes to legal documents during their proceedings.  The reasoning behind this requirement is that the couple is assumed to be working toward completing the divorce and separating the assets and the Court wants to make sure nothing is moved or spent before the finalization.

If you know that you will not finalize a divorce, you should talk to your family law attorneys about provisions in your paperwork for your case to allow you and your spouse to change your estate plans.

If an estate goes through probate, your spouse can always argue for a marital share.  If you do not have a plan in place, or only have a Will, your estate will go to probate.  With a Trust, going to court is less likely.

Though your spouse could still sue and argue for a marital share, if you both sign off on the documents, it is far less likely your separated spouse would take from your estate and you could have more control over who gets what.

If you are in a permanent separation, be sure to reach out to your financial and estate planning professionals today!

 

Legal Battles Possible Over Frozen Embryos When Couples Separate

By: Sarah Stewart Legal Group

Stories of legal battles over frozen embryos have been making the rounds in the news lately.  Beginning with the high profile case in 2013 between Sofia Vergara and her former fiance,  Nick Loeb, cases concerning couples’ frozen embryos became more popular.

Legal Issues

The problem couples face when they separate and have remaining frozen embryos is deciding what to do with those embryos.  They can decide whether to store the embryos, destroy the embryos, donate them to science, or donate them to a couple with fertility issues.

Courts addressing the issue face a strange mix of Constitutional, family law, and contract law questions. The case can become even more complicated when the couple was never married. Courts must decide what rights each parent has and what rights, if any, the embryos themselves have.

Michigan Case

An interesting case arose in Michigan this month when an unwed couple started a legal dispute over their frozen embryos.  The former couple have a child together who has sickle cell disease.  The mother believes she could use bone marrow from another child she conceives to ease her daughter’s suffering and possibly save her life.

The father refuses to consent to the release of the embryos. The matter is currently in litigation, but there should be an outcome in the next few months.

The Law

Historically, most of the parents seeking custody in a frozen embryo dispute have lost.  Courts usually see the Constitutional right of privacy of one parent who chooses not to reproduce prevailing over the right of the other to bear a child and any contract that existed before between the two.

Exceptions to this rule have applied where the parents in the case suffered from cancer and the treatments took away any other chance they had to reproduce.

Embryo Donation in Oklahoma

In Oklahoma, we do not have specific, published cases concerning custody of human embryos.  However, we do have statutes that address embryo donation in adoption. If an embryo is donated, Oklahoma statutes require both couples to consent to the donation and adoption. The consents must be filed with the court.

The statute states the receiving couple will legally be the parents of the child born from the embryo and the donating couple is relieved of all parental responsibility.

If you have questions about embryo donation or custody, consult with a health care attorney today!

 

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!

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!

 

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.

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 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.

6 Concerns When Making Your Home Senior-Friendly

By: Sarah Stewart Legal Group

Many baby boomers are aging, causing a spike in our elderly population.  To prepare a home for an aging loved one, you must consider some unique challenges seniors face.  For example, seniors are known to fall more frequently than their younger counterparts, have mobility issues, and have more trouble with their sight.

Today, we will discuss 6 concerns when making your home senior-friendly, whether for yourself or a loved one.

(1) Bathroom Accommodations

Walking and standing on slick, wet surfaces can be difficult for anyone.  This is especially true for our elderly population.  To help seniors lower their risk of a serious fall and injury, consider adding a walk-in tub with a door that opens into the tub/shower and shower seating.

(2) Lights

Lighting can help prevent falls in the home.  Simply putting lighting in places like stairways and near steps can show people where they need to place their feet so as not to fall. Lighting also helps seniors see better in general, improving their quality of life when aging in place.

(3) Accessibility for Walkers and Wheelchairs

Seniors may need the help of a wheelchair or walker to get around.  Widening hallways can help prevent falls and allow elders greater mobility.  Also, adding ramps in place of stairs can make access easier for everyone.

(4) Heights of Cabinets and Countertops

Changing countertop and cabinet heights can help prevent falls for those with limited reach. Shelves that rotate are also an option to provide better access.  They can swing out to accommodate seniors and be returned after use.

(5) Access to Second-story

Many seniors have a hard time getting up and down stairs.  If you or your loved one have a second story, you should consider installing an elevator or chair lift. You may also want to consider moving the sleeping area for the senior to a downstairs room.

(6) More Concerns

Seniors face issues other than mobility, falls, and sight.  They may find it hard to hold or grip everyday household items like door knobs or faucets.  Consider installing new faucets and knobs that they can use.

Each senior will also have their own, unique set of limitations.  Be sure to address those needs and concerns in your loved one’s home.

 

5 Estate Planning Concerns for Single Parents

By Sarah Stewart Legal Group

For married couples, many decisions regarding who manages assets after death and makes medical decisions for their spouse can be relatively easy.  When a family involves a single parent, those questions can become more complicated.

Today we’ll discuss 5 concerns single parents should consider when making their estate plans.

(1) Who Will Take Care of the Kids?

Who would you want to take care of your minor children if you’re unable to?  If you are a divorced parent, the default will be the other parent, if that parent is living. If that parent dies before you, or for another reason is not in the children’s lives, you will need to choose someone you trust to care for your children.  If that person does not have the financial resources to take on an extra child or more, you may want to consider establishing a trust for the care of the children.  These trusts can be funded with life insurance proceeds, or any other assets you have.

(2) Are You Insured?

As a single parent, your financial responsibilities are greater than married families.  You carry the entire burden yourself.  Be sure to look into life insurance and disability policies so that you and your children can be covered financially during any times of disability or death.

(3) What Happens if You’re Incapacitated?

All estate plans should include incapacity planning.  If the children are adults, they can help make medical and financial decisions for their parent if they’re incapacitated.  If they are not adults, you will need to find a family member or close friend who can help make medical and financial decisions for you when you are unable.

(4) Do You Have a Trust?

If you have young children, a trust is the only way to ensure they will not receive their money until you are ready for them to and to control the way those assets can be managed.  If you have an ex still living and the children are minors, without a trust, the money will go directly to your ex to manage for the children as he or she sees fit.  If that situation doesn’t sit well with you, you will need a trust for your children with a manager that you trust to handle their assets correctly.

(5) Have You Updated Your Estate Plan?

Estate plans should be reviewed regularly to update beneficiary designations and ensure the documents still meet your intentions.  Transitional periods such as marriage, divorce, and when minors become adults are all very important times to review all plans and update them.  Don’t wait.  Take out your plan today and review it.

Single parents have a lot of responsibilities.  It can be easy to forget about the details of planning for your children if you die or are unable to care for them.  However, planning is even more important for single parent families, since they do not have a default person to rely on.

Reach out to professionals to help you refine your own estate plans.

6 Common Adoption Questions

By Sarah Stewart Legal Group

When you are looking to grow your family through adoption, it is an exciting, yet nervous time.  Though some people adopt through family relationships- stepparents, grandparents, etc., that is not always the case.

If you are looking to adopt, below are answers to some of the most common questions we’re asked about adoption.

(1) How Do I Adopt?

The first adoption option is through agencies.  Agency adoptions include private and public agencies.  Oklahoma’s public agency is the Department of Human Services.  Private agencies are available throughout the U.S. and Internationally.  If you are using a private agency, be sure it is a reputable one that you or someone you know is familiar with.

Another option is independent adoption. These adoptions are generally facilitated through attorneys, other professionals, or the pregnant woman herself.  Independent adoptions in Oklahoma have the greatest potential for abuse, as biological mothers can revoke consent to adoption any time before they have given consent in court to a Judge, or their rights have been legally terminated.

(2) What Children Are Available for Adoption?

Many different kinds of children are available for adoption.  They come from all different backgrounds, races, nationalities, and religions.  Children can be adopted from the U.S. or internationally.

(3) How Long Does it Take?

The longest part of the process is finding your child.  Waiting times for placements vary depending on your specific interests and qualifications.  Public agencies adopt out children whose parents’ rights have been terminated.  Since their goal is reunification with the family, that generally means they have more older children available.  Private agencies generally allow the biological parent to choose the adopting parent, so you are subject to the likes and dislikes of the parents.

Once you find your child, the legal process in Oklahoma can take 3 months to 1 year, depending on the status of the adoptive child’s parents and the likelihood the biological parents will fight the case.

(4) How Much Does it Cost?

Costs vary depending on the placement used for adopting your child.  Public agencies tend to cost less, and usually cover adoption expenses.  So, public agency adoptions range from 0 – about $2,000.

Private agencies range from $4,000 – $30,000 depending on the agency and services.

Independent adoptions are hard to pinpoint.  In Oklahoma, adoptive parents can help with some expenses of the biological mother.  The biological mother will also need to have an independent attorney hired for her.  So, you are looking at a range of about $5,000 – $30,000 or more, depending on your contract with the biological mother and court costs and attorney fees.

International adoptions can cost $8,000 – $30,000 or more.

(5) What if I’m Single?

Oklahoma laws allow single people over the age of 21 to adopt children.

(6) What Information Will I Give?

You will have to pass a background check and a home study.  Throughout this process, they will check for criminal records, learn about your family history and background, talk about your motivation and expectations for adoption, learn about your family environment and parenting style, and check your physical, employment, and health history.

 

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