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Category: Oklahoma Families (Page 2 of 3)

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!

7 Reasons to Budget and Tips to Do It Right

By Sarah Stewart Legal Group, PLLC

Do you have a budget? If so, you are in the minority.  A study from the U.S. Bank in 2017 found that only 41% of people living in the U.S. had a budget.

Experts agree making and following a budget is the best way to manage your money and save for emergencies, vacations, and retirement. Budgeting also relieves a lot of stress by allowing people to plan for expenses and be sure they have enough money to live each month.

If you aren’t budgeting, we’ll tell you why you should and how to do it right.

Why Budget?

(1) You Have Control of Your Money

With a budget you know how much money comes in and where it goes.  You know what you can afford each month and can make a plan to lower debt and plan for other life and financial goals.

(2) Emergency Planning

When you have a budget and know where your money comes from and where it goes, you can plan to put some extra aside for emergencies.  Have you ever had your air conditioning go out in the heat of the Summer? Have you had a pipe break, flooding your house?  Wouldn’t it be nice to have the money set aside to cover those expenses without affecting your month?

(3) Determine and Focus on Money Goals

Knowing where your money goes gives you the power to change spending habits and decide what money goals you have.  Have you always wanted to take a trip to Italy?  What would it take to get there?  Planning for that trip will motivate you to skip the coffee drive through a few times a week.

(4) Share with Your Spouse and Family

Budgeting allows you to work as a team with your family and teaches your children how to use their money wisely.

(5) Foresee Problems

With a budget, you learn the ebbs and flows of your finances and can head off possible financial problems before they become problems.

(6) Decide About Debt

Budgeting helps you decide what, if any, debt you can afford. Do you want a new car?  Can you really afford it?

(7) Adjust Spending

When you budget, you can get rid of unnecessary expenses and add the savings up for retirement, college funds, vacations, or whatever you want.

Budgeting Tips

(1) If you’re married, be sure to budget together.  It won’t do any good if the two of you aren’t on the same page about important expenses.

(2) Be flexible.  Every month can be different.  You may need to buy school supplies, car maintenance expenses, or holidays.  Be sure to allow room for these expenses in your budget.

(3) Start with food, shelter, utilities, clothing, and transportation. Your necessities are the most important.  Fill everything else in around them.

(4) Pay off debt.  The less money you owe, the more you have for yourself!  Not to mention, credit cards and loans charge interest and penalties, taking more of your hard-earned money than you can imagine.

(5) If you’re struggling with certain expenses in your budget, such as entertainment, pull out cash for the month for that category.  Only use the cash.  Once it’s gone, you can’t spend any more on that category.

If you don’t have a budget yet, sit down with your family and set one up today!

Planning for Temporary Child Custody if You Die

By: Sarah Stewart Legal Group

If we don’t plan for our assets after our death while we’re alive, the Court will take over for your family and tell them who gets what. Because of this, estate planning tools are important for everyone.   But, families with young children have even more at stake if they don’t plan properly for their children.

Traditional estate planning tools like Wills and Trusts allow parents to name a Guardian for their children if the parents die while the children are under the age of 18.  At the very least, parents should think through who you trust to care for and raise your children if you’re not there.

Though these documents are important for every young family to have,  there are other plans parents of young children may not be aware of that are just as crucial.

Sometimes when both parents have died, children can be taken into state custody, at least for a brief period.  If you want to minimize the chance of this happening to your children, you will need to make plans and arrangements with family members or friends if something happens to you.

Let’s say you go out on a date night and leave the kids with a sitter, but you get in a car accident and don’t make it home.  Who would the babysitter call? Who would care for the children until the Guardian can go to court and establish Guardianship? Getting a guardianship is a process that can take weeks.

What about young families who do not live close to their parents, siblings, or other family members?  What if closest relatives are more than 5 hours away? Where would your children go?

If you have a trusted friend you would like them to stay with until family arrives, you will need documentation granting the friend authority to keep the children temporarily.  Otherwise, child protective services will likely take them into custody.

If you are a parent or Guardian of young children, you should consider drafting a plan for your family.  You can give a copy of the plan to your proposed caretaker and keep a copy somewhere in your home that is easily accessible and that the sitter knows about.

Your children will have enough stress and trauma from dealing with your loss if you die suddenly.  Do you want to make that process even more difficult by having the state take them into custody and hand them over to strangers?

If not, get to work on your temporary custody plans for your children today!

5 Mistakes to Avoid When Making Your Estate Plan

By Sarah Stewart Legal Group

Estate planning is a topic a lot of people try to avoid, despite all the sage advice otherwise.  Though statistics vary, the consensus is only about 50% of people have actually planned for their family’s inheritance after their deaths.

Adults with children younger than 18 years of age, arguably the people who need to plan the most, have the lowest rate of planning- 36%.

Estate plans help families decide what assets go to whom, when, where, and can possibly save thousands of dollars in attorney and court costs. Planning is important for everyone, and it must be done correctly to meet your goals.

Here are 5 common mistakes you should avoid when estate planning.

(1) Not Planning

The difficulty of talking about death and working through a plan make people put off estate planning.  While you’re waiting for the right time, life, and death, can happen. If you die without an estate plan, the state decides who gets what, while your family is out thousands of dollars in court fees and attorney costs to get the state to divide your assets.

If you’re married, and you don’t have an estate plan, your spouse will not receive everything you left behind.  If you have children from a previous relationship that are not 18, and your previous partner survives you, your previous partner will receive your assets to manage for your children.  Are you comfortable with that?  If not, you need to make a plan.  Now.

(2) Forgetting Health Care Directives

Advance Directives for Health care are the only documents in the state of Oklahoma that gives someone the authority to withhold life-sustaining treatment on your behalf.  If you have certain situations where you would not want to be on life support, you need an Advance Directive in place.

Another important health care document is the Durable Power of Attorney for Health care.  If you are in a situation where you cannot make decisions for yourself, the Durable Power of Attorney will name someone you trust to make those decisions for you.

(3) Not Choosing a Guardian for Your Kids

If you don’t have an estate plan, and you have young children, you have not named a guardian for your children if something happens to you.  Your family will have to go to court, and possibly argue with other family members, to get guardianship of your child. And, the guardian may wind up being someone you wouldn’t want.

Remember when picking your guardian, that though your parents may be your first choice, if your children are older and your parents have health issues in the future, they may not realistically be able to care for them.  Consider naming a back-up guardian or co-guardian who is younger.

(4) Forgetting to Update Documents

When big life changes occur- divorce, birth, death, marriage, kids growing up- you should re-evaluate your plan.  Is everything the way you want it?  Has anything changed?  Documents are easy to amend if your plans change, but you have to stay on top of things.

(5) Incorrectly Titling Assets

Some people take the time and money to set up a trust, but forget to put their assets into the trust.  A trust is only as good as what you put in it.  Be sure to talk to your banks, financial planners, employers, and other asset holders to get your assets put into your trust.

If you don’t have an estate plan in place, or need to update yours, reach out to a professional today!

 

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!

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