By: Sarah Stewart Legal Group

Despite advice from leading financial and business professionals singing the praises of sound estate plans, recent statistics show that more than 50% of Americans do not have estate plans in place. Without an estate plan, U.S. Courts will decide who receives your assets. Is that what you want?

Though the local Court rules can be concerning for people who are married with children, they can be even more concerning for those who are single and do not have children.  In Oklahoma, the Court will leave your assets, automatically, to your “closest relatives.”  The Court defines these relatives as parents, siblings, etc. in a distinct order. This may not be your personal familial relationship.  If it is not, you will need an estate plan.

Moreover, under Oklahoma law, no one is legally required to take care of you when you are unable to make decisions for yourself.  If you become incapable of making your own decisions, your family and friends will have the pleasure of fighting out among themselves who will help care for you. Or, the state will step in. If that is not what you want, you need a sound estate and incapacity plan.

What Now?

You need to determine the best estate plan for you.  Some people prefer the ease and simplicity of a Last Will and Testament.  However, this document has its drawbacks.  You can name who you would like to receive assets from you, but you cannot put restrictions on those assets (say for a minor child or loved one with Special Needs) and your loved ones will have to pay for and go to Court to transfer your assets. If that is bothersome to you, you will want to consider a trust.

Also, you will need to decide if you have a trusted person you would like to help care for you when you are unable.  If so, you should consider a Durable Power of Attorney for financial and medical reasons so that this person can step in if you are unable to care for yourself. A trust can also offer some of these protections.

The most important tool in your estate planning arsenal will be the Advance Directive.  This document is the only legal document in Oklahoma that allows someone to withdraw life-sustaining treatment on your behalf.  Under Oklahoma law, no relative or loved one has that legal right without this document.  If there are any situations where you are certain you would not want life-sustaining treatment, get an Advance Directive.

Decide Who You Want to Get What

You will need to decide what assets you would like to pass to whom.  Make a detailed list of what you own and who you want to have those things when die.  This will be the basis of your Will or Trust so be as thorough as you would like.  Also, think about who you can trust to manage your assets and follow your instructions when you are gone.

It is never too early to plan. These documents can always be updated and changed as life and circumstances require.  Start today, in case the unexpected happens to you and your family.