Sarah Stewart Legal Group, PLLC

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Category: Probate Oklahoma

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.

How to Probate an Estate in Oklahoma

By: Sarah Stewart Legal Group

As the old adage goes, there are few things in life that are certain.  Mostly just death and taxes. So, what do you do in Oklahoma when a loved one dies?

(1) Plan the Funeral. Go to the Funeral. Grieve.

The benefit of the probate process in Oklahoma is that there is no expiration date on when you have to begin.  Take your time to get through the hardest part of your grieving process. When you get your head above water, start focusing on taking care of the legal matters of the estate.

(2) Determine what, if anything, was owned jointly with someone else.

In Oklahoma, people can own many assets jointly with another person.  These assets can include real estate, vehicles, and bank accounts.  Though there can be exceptions, it is safe to assume items owned jointly will pass to the surviving owner, outside of the Oklahoma probate process. If your situation is different, an attorney can let you know.

(3) Find out if there are living beneficiaries listed.

Many assets will have beneficiaries listed, such as stocks, bonds, insurance, and retirement accounts.  As long as the beneficiary has been kept up to date and the beneficiary listed is still alive, the assets with listed beneficiaries will go to those named, outside of the Oklahoma probate process.

If there is no listed beneficiary, or the beneficiaries died before the deceased, you will have to probate the asset.

(4) Calculate the value of assets not owned jointly, with named beneficiaries, or owned by a Trust.

You need to have a rough idea of the value of any property not owned jointly, with named beneficiaries, or owned through a Trust.  If these assets include real estate, or are over $20,000, you will need to file a probate in the County where the property is held, or if the deceased is an Oklahoma resident, where the deceased died. If the property is worth less than $20,000 and not real estate, you can usually use an Affidavit of Tangible Personal Property, signed by all heirs, to get the company holding the funds to release them to you.

(5) We have to go through probate.  Now what?

There are a few different options for probate in the State of Oklahoma.  There are shortened versions for estates less than $200,000, estates where decedents passed away more than 5 years ago, and estates where someone died and had their assets probated in another state, but they own property in Oklahoma.  The value of the estate includes all of the assets that have to go through probate, even real estate.

Depending on your situation, you may qualify for one of these fast-track options.  They can be faster than other probates, and cost less. Regardless of your probate process, you will need the names and addresses of all the closest surviving relatives and the names and addresses of all creditors. You will need to determine if there is a Will.  You will also need to decide who will manage the assets of the estate and make sure the assets are distributed properly.

Then, you will have to prepare your documents and have a hearing with the Judge for the County where you are filing.  Though you can file on your own, without an attorney, keep in mind probate is a very complex, time-sensitive process.

It is worth it to at least speak with a few attorneys and see what they have to offer.  We can usually provide you peace of mind and take the worry of the process off your shoulders.

What is the value of real property in Oklahoma?

By: Sarah Stewart Legal Group, PLLC

I often have clients ask me how they can find the value of real property.  They may need to report the value to a Court for probate, or they may be looking to sell their house or put a value on it for estate planning and financial planning purposes.  As usual, the answer is:  “It depends.”

Luckily for most Oklahomans, and those who are out of state, but need to probate or value property in Oklahoma, most Oklahoma counties have their own sites where you can look up property information. If the County does not have a web site, you can always visit their County Assessor offices to access the information.  In Oklahoma, county assessors do regular property valuations for property tax purposes. The information on assessor valuations are usually easy to find.  Sometimes, you may have to pay a fee to access the information, but the fee is much lower than hiring an actual appraiser.

Most of the time this value is close enough.  But, if the property is on one of two ends of an extreme, either the property is very run down and has not been kept up, or the property has had a lot of improvements, maybe additions to the home or guest houses built on the property, the assessor value will not be enough.  In this case you will have two options.  (1) You can look at the sale prices of similar homes in the area over the past few months or a year (the Oklahoma County assessor site will provide this information for you for Oklahoma County), or (2) you can hire an appraiser, or possibly a real estate agent, to assess the value of the property.

Often, this process can work for mineral interests as well.  If the property does not have an oil and gas lease, then the property value would be the amount you could sale the unleased interests for.  Sometimes, that can be the assessed value.  If the property is leased, you should be able to get information on the value of the lease from the oil and gas company leasing the property. Keep in mind that if you do not have an ownership interest in the oil and gas leases, you may need to go through probate before the company will share this information with you. Even if you have someone who lived out of state, but had property in the state of Oklahoma, if the property wasn’t owned jointly or left through transfer on death, you will likely need to probate the Oklahoma interest in a Court in the County where the interest is held.

Once the property value is determined, you can use that information to your advantage.  Whether you need to inform the Court of the value for a probate, keep records of your home value for financial and estate planning reasons, or get an estimate of what you might get if you sold the property, these options are good places to start.

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