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Category: Probate Oklahoma (Page 1 of 2)

6 Trustee Duties We Can Learn From Lisa Marie Presley’s Suit Against Elvis’s Trustee and Business Manager

By Sarah Stewart Legal Group

In February of this year, Lisa Marie Presley filed suit against Barry Siegel, Elvis Presley’s former business manager. Presley claims that Siegel squandered her $100 million inheritance down to tens of thousands of dollars while managing Elvis Presley’s trust he established for his family. Lisa Marie Presley is the only surviving heir to that trust.

Presley brought her suit in probate court, alleging the probate court system was the proper forum, since Siegel accessed the money as Trustee of the Presley trust.  She alleges Siegel acted in his own best interests in spending the money, contrary to his role and responsibilities as Trustee.

Siegel tried to get the case thrown out.  He argued Presley brought the suit in the wrong court.  But, a Judge ruled this week that the suit could continue.

Trustee Responsiblities

Presley’s case accuses Siegel of ignoring his responsibilities as Trustee to manage the trust.  A Trustee has certain duties and rules he or she must follow when handling trust assets.  If Presley prevails in proving Siegel breached these duties and responsibilities, he could be liable to her for the money he lost.

If you are choosing a Trustee, or have been named a Trustee yourself, you should be aware of the duties Trustees have. Your trust document will control a lot of the responsibilities and duties of the Trustee, but if the document is silent as to some responsibilities, the default duties are below:

(1) Duty of Loyalty

Trustees must be loyal to the beneficiaries of the trust.  Trustees must manage the trust in the best interests of the beneficiaries and not gain anything personally from the business they conduct for the trust.

(2) Duty of Fariness

Unless the Trust makes specific provisions otherwise, the Trustee must be fair and impartial to all beneficiaries and treat them equally.

(3) Duty to Account

Trustees must provide beneficiaries with information about the administration of the trust. This includes information about the income and expenses of the trust and the assets in the trust.

(4) Duty to Protect Trust Assets

Trustees must follow the terms of the trust when managing the assets of the trust.

(5) Duty to Separate

Trust assets must be owned by the trust and kept separate from the Trustee’s personal assets.  Trustees cannot comingle the trust’s assets with their own.

(6) Duty of Care

Trustees cannot invest trust assets in high risk investments.  They must keep the beneficiaries in mind at all times. Trustees must also manage the assets of the trust carefully, paying all bills associated with the trust and taking proper care of income from the trust.

Choosing your own Trustee can be difficult when you consider the many challenges  Trustees face when managing estates. Being a Trustee can be a hard job.  It becomes harder the more assets the Trustee must manage for the trust.

If you have questions about establishing a trust and choosing a Trustee, or acting as a Trustee of an existing trust, reach out to an experienced Estate Planning attorney today!

 

How Are Debts Paid During Probate?

By Sarah Stewart Legal Group

Probate is a court process where someone who has a Will, does not have an estate plan at all, or has a trust but missed placing some of their assets into the trust and has property titled in their name only has died and the family has to work with a Judge to transfer that property.

The most common question I get about probate from clients is

What About the Debt?

After a probate is started in Oklahoma, the representative appointed by the Court has to file and publish notice to creditors of the death.  This notice must also be mailed to creditors of which the representative is aware.

Creditors then have a set time in which they have to file a claim on the estate. If they miss their deadlines, the debt is wiped.  This rule does not apply to all creditors- generally, the government, or creditors with secured interests- like mortgage companies who have a lien on the property until the mortgage is paid.

Do Representatives Have to Pay the Debts?

Though the Representative is the person responsible for paying the deceased’s debts, their role is more a role of management.  They are not personally responsible for the debts and do not pay them with their own money.

Instead, they use any money left over in the deceased’s account to pay the debts where claims have been filed, or a secured interest is in place. If the money is not available, the debts cannot be paid.

Anyone can file a probate without an attorney in Oklahoma.  But, the probate process is very precise.

There are deadlines that must be met and very specific procedures that must be followed.  If you represent yourself, you are telling the Court you agree to follow all of those procedures. You are held to the same standard as the attorneys who enter the courtroom every day.

So, please reach out to an attorney to decide if you need to file a probate, and to get help with the process. Make your grieving process a little easier by having someone else handle the complicated court process.

 

3 Intangible Benefits of Estate Planning

By Sarah Stewart Legal Group

We spend a lot of time discussing the tangible benefits of estate planning and the different types of planning tools on this blog.  An estate plan is a valuable part of everyone’s life and end-of-life plan.

Though the tangible benefits are varied and important, the intangible benefits of your estate plan can be just as valuable.  Today, we discuss 3 intangible benefits of creating your estate plan.

(1) Ease Pain and Grief of Loved Ones

Though it is never easy to lose a loved one, having a well-thought-out estate plan can ease a lot of pain, stress, and grief for your loved ones after your death.  Few things can add more stress to an already stressful situation than having to wade through mountains of documents, looking for assets, liabilities, and any evidence of an estate plan, or lack thereof.

One of the best gifts you can give your loved ones after your death is a plan for your assets and a list of your assets and debts, in an easy-to-find and access location. It will save your family hours of stress and the pain of sifting through all your belongings, and reliving countless old memories, just to find the things they need.

(2) Inspire Family Reflection

Estate planning requires focus, attention, and deliberate thought about one’s values and loved ones.  Some may be inspired through the process to write a memoir, or share family history and memories with loved ones. Some decide to write letters to their family members and friends telling them how important they are to the planner.  Estate planning can lead to a renewed sense of family, love and belonging.

(3) Repair Relationships

Since estate planning brings up memories of the people we have known and loved in our lives, it is not uncommon for the process of estate planning to repair interpersonal relationships. As people begin the process of thinking about who and what is important to them in their lives, they can recognize the people and areas of their lives where they feel they have lost something.  Sometimes, they will work to improve or fix that relationship or area of their lives, enriching the lives that they currently live.

Estate planning can be a difficult and time-consuming process for many.  Attorneys, financial planners, and tax professionals all have professional knowledge and experience that can only help you in your process.

Let 2018 be the year you explore the tangible and intangible benefits of having your estate plan in order.

7 Things To Do When Your Loved One Dies

By Sarah Stewart Legal Group

Few things in life are harder than losing someone you love.  Grieving is hard enough, but many times, loved ones are left to not only grieve, but also sort through and take care of the assets of the deceased.

In those sad, stressful, cloudy moments after your loved one dies, what should you do to start the process of distributing your loved one’s estate?

(1) Find Their Estate Plan

The most helpful documents someone can prepare for their family are estate planning documents.  An estate plan can include a Will, Revocable Trust, Irrevocable Trust, Durable Power of Attorney, and other documents.

Since Durable Powers of Attorney are invalid after a person dies, you will want to search for Will or Trust documents.  Look in safety deposit boxes, fireproof safes in the home, and other well-know places for safe keeping of important documents.

(2) Create an Inventory of Their  Assets

You will need to determine if you will need to file a probate.  One way to help you decide, and also help you prepare if a probate is necessary, is to create an inventory of the deceased’s assets.  Make a list of all real estate, bank accounts, stocks, bonds, automobiles, expensive furniture, expensive furs, expensive jewelry, and other notable assets. If these items are valued at more than $50,000, include real estate, and aren’t jointly owned or held in a trust, beneficiaries aren’t named, or beneficiaries are deceased, you will need to file probate.

(3) Determine Jointly Owned Assets and Assets with Beneficiaries

Any assets in this category will pass outside of probate.  Most assets that are jointly owned, held in trust, or have named beneficiaries can be transferred with a Death Certificate immediately after death.  Life insurance policies, retirement accounts, bank accounts, and stocks and bonds often have beneficiaries named.

(4) Determine the Deceased’s Creditors

You will need to look through the deceased’s mail to determine creditors.  You are not personally liable for any of the deceased’s debts, but the estate is.  So, any money that is left over from the deceased will go to paying these expenses to the extent possible.

(5) Find Real Estate Documents

You will need the Deeds of any real estate to help you determine what the deceased owned and transfer that property. The deeds will also help you determine if the property was owned jointly, or in a Trust, and does not need to go through probate, or if it will have to go through a probate procedure in your local courts.

(6) Forward all Mail

You will need to forward the deceased’s mail so you can keep track of assets and creditors.  The easiest way to do this is to forward their mail to you.

(7) File Probate

If you have identified property that was not held in Trust, owned jointly, or with beneficiaries, it is likely you will need to file probate.  Probate is a Court procedure in the County (or one of them) where property is located in the State of Oklahoma.

There are different options available for different sized estates with different waiting periods and requirements. If probate is necessary, we suggest reaching out to an attorney to learn about your options.

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!

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