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Category: Probate Oklahoma (Page 1 of 2)

Why You Should Follow Hugh Hefner’s Example

By Sarah Stewart Legal Group

Picture from eonline.com

We all know Hugh Hefner.  As the mogul businessman with the groundbreaking idea behind Playboy magazine, he was quite the controversial figure.  Despite your personal beliefs about Hugh’s business and life choices, he is a role model for all of us in one aspect of his life– Estate and Financial Planning.

Say what you will about Hef, but his business acumen was amazing.  He started Playboy in 1953 with $8,000 and transformed it into a global business.  Hef was able to take his eventual fortune from this business and plan well for his retirement and the twilight years of his active lifestyle.

Hef began planning for his future and his empire in about 2010 when he divorced Kimberley Conrad. Records show his net worth at the time was around $43 million and his income was about $3.5 million a year.

With the rise of the internet, Hef knew his business could suffer.  So, he made a decision in 2011 to make Playboy private by partnering with a private equity firm.  This move netted him more than $207 million. He included a deal in the purchase contract that gave him 37% of the stock and a $1 million per year income from the new business.

Hef took his estate planning prowess to a new level in 2012 when he negotiated a pre-nuptial agreement with his 3rd wife. Through the agreement, he established a trust solely for the benefit of the wife and kept all of his agreed, non-marital assets separate.

With this decision, Hef dodged a common estate planning bullet.  He was able to keep his wife happy and keep his assets separate and protected for his adult children.  Those who don’t take these steps in blended families, often have disagreements, and many times full out wars, over assets after the parent’s death.

It is likely Hef used several trusts to plan for his children and spouses after his death.  In fact, it is rumored that he even left half of his estate to a charitable trust to minimize estate taxes.

Hef’s one mistake was leaving his 37% share of the company tied up in stock.  Now, his heirs will have to sell the stock to realize the value, which is hard to determine since the public will not be able to purchase a private company’s stock.

Overall, though, Hef’s planning was sound and inspired.  He was able to take a business that would soon be affected by the technological revolution of the internet and turn it into a free home and yearly stipend. He was able to plan for the people who were most important to him without sparking a massive legal battle.  And, he even planned out his burial, purchasing a plot next to his first model, Marilyn Monroe. I have no doubt his family is eternally grateful for his foresight.

We can all take a cue from Hef’s playbook.  No matter the size of your estate, planning is essential, especially in blended families.  Make a plan for yourself and your loved ones centered around your retirement, and your eventual death. The hardest step is the first step.

Reach out to an experienced estate planning attorney and financial planner to help you plan for your retirement and family today!

How to Plan for Your Digital Assets

By Sarah Stewart Legal Group

What happens to your digital assets after your death?  Who takes care of your social media accounts, email, and online savings and checking accounts? What happens to those accounts when you die? Do they continue on inevitably, or can they be closed?

Though a large amount of estate planning still takes place with paper documents, digital assets are extremely common and must be addressed as well. Digital estate plans help determine if your digital assets have any monetary value and helps your loved ones know what you have and where.

(1) Inventory

To make a plan, you have to know what you have.  Compile a list of all the online assets you have and their usernames and passwords, including but not limited to:

  • Social media accounts
  • email accounts
  • websites
  • online insurance, bank, and credit card accounts
  • online bill pay
  • media files
  • online payment tools (Google Wallet, PayPal, etc.)

(2) Proper Storage of Your Inventory

Your inventory will have a lot of important, personal information.  You need to make sure you protect it. You can store the inventory in a safety deposit box at a bank, with an attorney, or in a safe. You may also consider online applications that were created solely for digital asset planning purposes, such as PasswordBox or SecureSafe.

(3) Name an Executor

Much like traditional estate planning, you will need to choose someone to manage your online accounts and assets. Make sure you choice is trustworthy, technologically savvy, and responsible. Give your Digital Executor information on where to find your inventory.

(4) Write Your Plan

What do you want your Executor to do with your digital assets? As with any estate plan, make sure your instructions are clear, to avoid confusion. Add a list of instructions for each digital asset you own.

(5) Pay Attention to Terms and Conditions

Review the terms and conditions for the places that hold your digital assets.  Each site may have different rules and procedures for handling assets of members after death. For instance, Facebook will allow you to close or “memorialize” an account.  Google has an “Inactive Account Manager” that allows users to decide what they want to happen to their accounts when they have been inactive for a predetermined amount of time. And Twitter requires more paperwork and redtape for families to access their loved ones’ accounts.

As our world becomes more and more digital, digital estate planning will continue to grow.  As you join new sites and amass more digital assets, be sure to update your plan so you don’t get so far behind you can’t catch up.

What We Can Learn from Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Estate Mistakes

By Sarah Stewart Legal Group

We all know Philip Seymour Hoffman.  He was the lovable actor who made appearances in many movies, including Twister, The Big Lebowski, Capote, and the Hunger Games movie series.  His death in 2014 was a tragic end to an acclaimed life. Unfortunately, like many stars before and after him, Hoffman made some disastrous estate planning mistakes.  Today, we will learn from him.

Hoffman died with a $35 million estate.  His girlfriend and their 3 children survived the actor. Hoffman chose a Last Will and Testament as his estate plan for his family, due to his stigma against trusts. He was determined that his children would make their own way in the world and not become “trust fund babies.”

Hoffman’s stigma and choice led to his estate owing $12 million in taxes.  Had Hoffman chosen to marry his girlfriend, or used appropriate estate planning tools, he may have been able to save his family that $12 million.

Hoffman also demanded that certain funds be used for specific purposes for his children and their education, something that Representatives of Wills are not required to do by law. Only a trust requires the Trustee to follow your express restrictions as to when and how money will be used for heirs.

Hoffman’s choice of using a Will saddled his family with more costs, delays in receiving their funds, and allowed the proceedings to be public record. Courts take fees for every probate filed.  Attorneys take fees as well. Creditors must be notified of the death and are allowed to file claims for money.  Should the probate require additional work, such as selling property, there may be even more exceptional fees tacked on to the final bill.

Also, Hoffman’s children are still minors.  This means, given the large amount of his estate, the Court may require Guardians to be appointed to manage those funds.  The Guardians would likely be required to establish trusts for the children’s benefit so the funds are properly managed. In essence, Hoffman’s children may become “trust fund kids” regardless of his best intentions.

Hoffman’s choice left his estate open to his girlfriend’s creditors, possible new husband/boyfriend and future kids, as well as a possible second dip into the assets for a second round of estate taxes on his girlfriend’s death.  Trusts options would have allowed Hoffman to avoid all of these additional problems. Pre-planning your estate is vital for any estate, but large estates especially.

Estate planning, and trusts, provide so many different avenues to reach your planning goals.  Trusts can provide tax benefits, restrictions on how or when funds will be used, protect your heirs’ funds from their creditors and/or divorces, and other lawsuits.

Though Oklahoma has no estate tax, other states do.  If you live outside of Oklahoma, you will need to consider your state’s estate taxes as well as Federal estate taxes in your planning.

Reach out to a professional to help you plan your estate.  Don’t wind up making the same mistakes as some of our most famous and wealthiest stars.

8 Most Famous Wills Requests and Probate Battles of the Rich and Famous

By Sarah Stewart Legal Group

Though rich and famous people should be more aware of their need for estate planning, they are not immune to forgetting to plan for their estates after their deaths.  Today, we will discuss some of their most interesting requests and probate battles.  Let these be a lesson for us all.

(1) Prince

One of the most recent and public battles over an estate comes from the unexpected April 2016 death of pop music icon Prince.  Prince was not married, had no children, and no direct next-of-kin.  He also had no estate plan, not even a Will.  According to the law of the state where Prince lived, his closest family members are set to inherit his $300 million fortune.  Many unknown “family members” have made an appearance in the legal proceedings. The Judge has been forced to require DNA tests to prove the claimants relationships to the late legend.

(2) Joan Crawford

In 1977, Joan Crawford left a Will that disinherited her 2 oldest children from her $2 million estate.  The two oldest children sued the estate for their portions, claiming Crawford was unduly influenced by her youngest child and husband to disinherit the children.  After a lengthy legal battle, the children were able to recover a meager inheritance.

(3) Harry Houdini

Houdini died in 1926 and left a strange request in his Will.  Houdini was interested in the paranormal and believed he could communicate with his wife outside the grave.  He asked, in his Will, that she hold an annual seance.  His wife followed his instructions, but Houdini never showed.

(4) Marilyn Monroe

Monroe left a Will giving all of her belongings to her mentor.  She stated in her Will that her belongings should be shared among her friends and loved ones.  Her mentor did not follow her wishes.  Instead, he held on to her items until their value increased. When he died in 1982, his wife inherited the items and sold them.  She profited nearly $14 million off Monroe’s estate.

(5) J. Howard Marshall II

Most of us know the infamous court battle between Anna Nicole Smith and her husband’s children over his estate.  The oil tycoon died just over a year after his marriage.  He left a Will, disinheriting Anna Nicole and his oldest son. Anna Nicole and the eldest son launched years of legal battles against the estate.  In the end, both lost their battles.

(6) Leona Helmsley

At her death in 2007, Helmsley left $8 billion to her family charitable trust.  The trust donates to education, conservation, and health projects. She also left her beloved dog $12 million in a trust (a Court later reduced this to $2 million).

(7) Janis Joplin

In her Will, Joplin left $2,500 ($15,500 today) for her friends to have a large party and celebrate her life. The party took place 3 weeks after her death at her favorite club.  About 200 of her friends reportedly attended the festivities and, by all accounts, had a wonderful time.

(8) William Shakespeare

The famous writer was wealthy when he died in 1616.  His Will gave generously to all of his children and many other family members, but he left little to his wife.  Nevertheless, his wife was entitled to 1/3 of her husband’s estate under English law at the time of his death.

 

3 Blended Family Issues in Oklahoma Estate Planning and Probate

By: Sarah Stewart Legal Group

According to the Oklahoma Marriage Initiative, more than 32% of Oklahomans have been divorced.  Oklahoma has one of the highest divorce rates in the U.S.  Due to this, many families in Oklahoma are blended families. Families with children from one or more previous relationships and step-parent relationships.

Blended families have complex relationships, complex estate planning needs, and even complex Oklahoma law regarding probate, if there is no estate plan in place.

Estate Planning Issues

(1) Previous Relationships

If you have children from a previous relationship, and minor children, and don’t have an estate plan, the surviving ex will receive the assets intended for the children to manage as he or she sees fit.  There is no obligation to account to the Court or to have any oversight from, or even contact with, the prior step-parent.

If it is important to you that the assets your children inherit go to them and not your ex, you will want to consider establishing a trust that restricts how the children’s assets will be spent and/or when they will be distributed.

Also, if you are concerned about continuing a relationship between the minor step-children and surviving step-parent, a trust with the step-parent as trustee may help keep some contact as the ex will have to work with the surviving step-parent to receive assets on the children’s behalf. There’s no assurance the ex will keep contact,  but money can be a good incentive.

(2) Obligations to Step-children under Oklahoma law

Oklahoma law does not require that a step-parent leave an inheritance for his or her step-children.  Oklahoma law does not even require that a parent leave an inheritance for his or her own children. If you want to insure that some specific assets are left to your children, you will need a Will and/or trust.

Probate Issues

If one partner dies without an estate plan, things can get sticky for the kids and the surviving spouse pretty quickly, regardless of whether the children are under the age of 18.

Under Oklahoma law, if the surviving spouse is not the parent of at least one of the surviving children, the spouse will receive 1/2 of the assets acquired during the marriage and an equally divided share with the children of any other assets.

Such a division can lead to struggles and fights in even the happiest of families.  Trust me, I’ve seen it.

If you are in the position of having a blended family, you want to be extra aware and conscious of your estate plan.  Sit down with your spouse and discuss what assets you would like to be left to your children from a previous relationship.  Work out a plan.  Then, I can’t emphasize this enough, put the plan into action!

Put your plans into a Will and/or Trust so that you can ensure you are fulfilling your own wishes and protecting those you love from the determinations of the Court.

 

5 Results of Ignoring Your Estate Plan

By: Sarah Stewart Legal Group

Estate planning is a difficult subject for many of us.  We don’t like to face our own mortality.  But, the truth is, death is one of life’s greatest certainties and we will all have to face it eventually.  The longer you wait, the more likely it is you will face the following 5 consequences for your delay:

(1) Your Heirs will Have to go to Court

Whether they are seeking to help you manage your finances and health when you are no longer able to do so, or trying to sort through your assets and debts after your death, without an estate plan, your heirs will go to Court to deal with your issues.  Preparation can make a huge difference in the lives of your loved ones when the unexpected happens to you.

(2) Your Family will Lose Money

When people go to Court, it costs money.  There are filing fees the Court takes, and, unless your family has a probate and guardianship attorney in it (and many times even then), there are attorney fees required to go to Court.

You can try to go it alone, but that can be frustrating and take a lot more time and money because the family member has to research what documents to file, prepare them, take off to go to Court, and usually, come back and do it all over again because they missed something the first time, or second time, or third time…I think you get the picture.

Judges allow people to represent themselves in Court, but they are held to the same legal standards as attorneys because, well, the law is the law and you and the Judge have to follow it. Save your family the hassle and money and make a plan today!

(3) Losing Time

Not only does going to Court in itself take time and preparation, but leaving your estate open to the possibility of going to Court opens the door to fights in the family.  Even if they have no valid reason to fight, family members can tie up your assets for months just because they want to fight.  Maybe they don’t like your son Billy.  Maybe they blame you for their divorce.  Who knows?  Family dynamics are complex.  An estate plan is the best way to guard your loved ones from messy family interests.

(4) You Will Lose Your Choices

If you do not have a proper plan in place, the Court will decide for you, based on local law. The Court’s decision may not always be what you want.  For instance, did you know that if you don’t have an estate plan, your spouse may only get 1/2 or less of your assets when you die?  No?  Most people don’t.

Or, if you have minor children and are divorced, did you know your ex will get the privilege of “managing” your money for your children after you die? Does that make you uncomfortable?  It probably should.

(5) Struggles with Property in Other States

If you own property in more than one state, you can take everything we’ve discussed here and magnify it by the number of states you own property in.  Every property will have to go through probate in the state where the property is owned.  Does that make your head spin?  Imagine what it will do to your family.

It is never too soon to start thinking about what will happen if you are unable to make decisions for yourself or if you pass away.  Start planning now!

Who Can Be a Representative of an Oklahoma Estate and What Are Their Responsibilities?

By: Sarah Stewart Legal Group

When your loved one dies, he or she may leave a Last Will and Testament naming a family member as an Executor, or he or she may have no estate planning documents at all, leaving the family members to wade through the jungle of the Deceased’s assets and creditors.

Often, those family members find themselves in an unusual situation, where they do not know what to do or where to turn.  They know they need to go to Court and become Personal Representatives of the estate, but then, who can do that? And then what?  What are your responsibilities if you’re named Representative in Oklahoma?

Preferences

Under Oklahoma law, the following people can be named Personal Representatives of the estate, in order of preference:

  1. If a Last Will and Testament is left, the person named as Executor in the Will. If no Will, or the named Executor is not living,
  2. Spouse or someone the spouse appoints
  3. Children
  4. A parent
  5. Siblings
  6. Grandchildren
  7. Next of kin who are heirs of the estate
  8. Creditors
  9. Anyone legally competent
  10. Surviving business partners of a partnership cannot be named as Representatives of the estate

So, now you know who can be appointed.  Once you are appointed, what do you do?

Responsibilities

Personal Representatives are more or less in charge of managing the estate.  They take in the assets of the estate and keep them safe. This includes all accounts, personal property, and real estate.  They must be sure that real estate is safe and will not be damaged, to the best of their abilities.  They also reach out to creditors to inform them of the death of the Deceased and respond to any creditor claims they receive. They are not personally responsible for estate debts.

Representatives can sell property through the estate, with the right consents and/or Court-approval.  They are responsible for making sure the estate is distributed according to law and the Court’s orders.  Representatives owe the heirs the duty of performing within the law.  They cannot plunder or hide estate assets from heirs and creditors.

Though anyone is able to file a probate in Oklahoma without the assistance of an attorney, there are a lot of deadlines and nuances that must be followed.  If you are considering probating an estate, you should reach out to an attorney to help you.

Keep in mind, the attorney fees can be paid by the estate, under Oklahoma law.  So, if the estate is big enough, it is definitely worth your time and effort to search for a reasonable and trustworthy attorney to advise you and make sure you are doing what you need to do under Oklahoma law.

Also, if you file and your case does not follow proper procedure, the Court will send you back to try again, repeatedly.  This can cause you valuable time and money simply because you are not experienced and do not understand the process.  Professionals are here to help you find your way and allow you the room to grieve your loved one.  Do not be afraid to reach out.

Can a Personal Representative of an Oklahoma Estate Take a Fee?

By: Sarah Stewart Legal Group

When someone has to probate a loved one’s estate, it can be a very difficult and emotional time.  The family is not only dealing with trauma and grief, but the legal process and asset management as well.  It is a very daunting task.  Many times, those in charge of the probate wonder if the tremendous amount of time they put into  their work can be compensated.

The answer is yes. However, the amount a personal representative can receive for the work he or she does for the probate estate, without direct instruction from a Last Will and Testament, is limited by Oklahoma law.

Personal Representative Fees and Compensation

Personal Representatives are entitled to receive reimbursements and attorney fees.  In addition, they can receive fees from the estate.  The calculation is a bit complicated and is as follows:

5 % of the first $1,000 + 4% of the next $5,000 + 2 1/2% for the rest of the estate value

If there is more than one Personal Representative of the estate, the fee will be split among them.

A Personal Representative is not required to take a fee from the estate.  He or she can choose to waive the fee if he or she so desires.  Many Personal Representatives who inherit from the estate choose not to take a fee.  However, if you are a Personal Representative, you are within your rights to do so, regardless of whether you inherit or not.

Being appointed as a Personal Representative can be stressful and time consuming, especially when there are many assets and/or large assets in the estate you are probating.  If you are taking on the task of becoming a Personal Representative and managing estate assets and debts, you will want to consider taking a fee for the services you have provided the other heirs.  It won’t make the situation any easier for you and your family to deal with, but it can compensate you for lost time and effort in your case.

What If I Don’t Want My Family to Get Anything When I Die?

By: Sarah Stewart Legal Group

Sometimes families don’t get along.  Sometimes there are people you just don’t like who are your family members.  Since we don’t get to pick our family, it’s not all that uncommon. So, what do you do when you don’t want your family to inherit your hard-earned money and assets?

Lately, more and more people are asking how to disinherit those family members they don’t like very much.  The answer:  make an estate plan.

If you do not have a Will or Trust in place, your assets will pass according to Oklahoma law.  That law may include giving assets to family members you don’t want to get them. Who wants the government deciding who gets their assets when they die?

So, in Oklahoma, how can you disinherit family in your estate plan?

(1) Children

If you want to disinherit your children in Oklahoma, you have to make it clear in your estate plan that disinheritance is your intention.  You will usually state your family history (marriage, children, etc) and if you are looking to disinherit a child, you will want to state that directly.

(2) Spouse

Under Oklahoma law, the spouse has the right to take a marital share of the property upon the other spouse’s death.  So, to disinherit your spouse in any way, your spouse must agree to the disinheritance.  Keep in mind that your spouse will still have the right to the marital property as long as he or she is living, and can always ask for the marital share of property in Court.  If the spouse has agreed to the disinheritance, it is less likely he or she will succeed, but it is still possible the Court would rule in his or her favor.

(3) Other Family

If you have a Will or Trust in place, no other family members are automatically entitled to inherit from you.  If you do not have a Will or Trust in place, your property will pass under the Oklahoma laws of intestacy.  Generally speaking, these laws allow those who are your closest relatives to split your assets.

For example, if you die with a spouse, but no children, your spouse would split your assets with your parents and/or siblings. If you do not have a spouse and children, your parents are first in line to inherit your assets, then your siblings, then grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc.

The only way to truly control who receives assets from your estate when you die is to plan for your death.  There is a common myth that if we have a Will or Trust, we will die.  The truth is, you will die anyway, so you might as well have a plan for the people you care most about.

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