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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!

Estate Planning: Planning for Life, Not Just Death

By Sarah Stewart Legal Group

When people think of estate planning- wills, trusts, durable powers of attorney, advance directives for healthcare, and other documents- it can often bring to mind thoughts of death. Though planning for our assets after death is an important part of estate planning, estate planning is also used to plan for you and your family’s best life.

To draft a thorough and appropriate estate plan, professionals will walk you through your plan, asking what will happen if an heir divorces, if someone dies, if someone has a child, or other important life changes happen.  They will also help you plan for illness and disability.

If you are an adult, over the age of 18, an important planning tool you will want to consider is a Durable Power of Attorney. A Power of Attorney will allow someone else to take care of your financial, and possibly medical, responsibilities if you are unable to do so yourself.  You get to create this document any way that works for you and meets your goals and needs.

Another important planning tool for any adult is an Advance Directive for Healthcare.  In Oklahoma, this is the only document that allows you to name someone to withhold life-sustaining treatment when you are unable to make decisions for yourself and other important criteria are met.  These documents walk you through 3 situations and allow you to choose the life-sustaining treatment you want, or don’t want.

Under Oklahoma law, there is no automatic authority for a spouse, child, or parent to access a family member’s information and handle their affairs.  Unless accounts are owned jointly, only a Durable Power of Attorney, or Trust where the person is named a Co-Trustee, will give companies the authority to deal with a spouse or family member on your behalf.

If you do not have a Power of Attorney and have not named an agent, your family will have to go to court to gain access to your accounts and information through a guardianship.  This is a lengthy, costly procedure that invites the Court into your life indefinitely and requires the Court to approve decisions that you may not want them involved in.

If it is important to you to maintain privacy and/or name a specific individual to help care for your health and assets, or to reduce stress and costs for your family, a Durable Power of Attorney and Advance Directive for Healthcare are a great place to start to make a plan for emergencies in your life.

If you do not have a plan in place for your life emergencies, reach out to a professional to help you get started now!

6 Costly Myths About Retirement Planning

By Sarah Stewart Legal Group PLLC

U.S. Citizens are well-known for their lack of retirement planning. According to a 2016 Retirement Confidence Survey, 26% of those surveyed said they had saved less than $1,000 for retirement.  More than 50% saved less than $25,000 for retirement.  Moreover, a Fidelity Investments study in 2017 found that more than 1/5 of workers aren’t contributing enough to their 401(k)s to receive the full benefit of employer-matching.

Whether you’re a Baby Boomer, a Gen X-er, or a Millennial, if you want to retire someday, you need to be aware of some common retirement myths that can stop you from saving the most you can for your best retirement.

(1) You Should Only Invest in 401(k)s and IRAs

Traditional retirement accounts have penalties for withdrawing money before you are 59 1/2 years old. When you consider your retirement plan, if you have any idea you may want to retire early, you will want to invest at least a portion of your money in non-retirement, taxable accounts so that you can fund any years of retirement before age 59 1/2.

(2) You Don’t Have to Invest After Retirement

People are living longer and longer every year.  It is estimated that there are currently more than 72,000 people over the age of 100 in the U.S.  Assuming you want to retire at the average retirement age of 62, you can have up to 38 years of retirement.  Mind blowing- right?

Because we are all living longer, we have to stretch our retirement dollars further. Make a plan that can cover you if you live until 100.  It’s better to plan too much, than not enough.  You don’t want to end up standing on your child’s/grandchild’s doorstep at 80 because your retirement ran out.

(3) You Can Always Invest the Same Amount

As you get older, your income, and lifestyle expenses, increase.  Be sure you invest more in your retirement account to accommodate these lifestyle changes.  You don’t want to eat caviar when your 40 and be forced to eat Ramen noodles every night when you’re 70.

(4) You Don’t Need to Plan Distributions

Our goal is to make sure we don’t run out of money in retirement.  We want to plan distributions so we can be sure we are using our assets for stable income throughout our retirement.

(5) You Only Need to Save 10-15% of Your Income

If you started saving for your retirement in your 20s, saving 10 – 15% of your income each year works because interest compounds.  If you started saving later, you need to increase your savings to catch up.

With that being said, put aside whatever you can whenever you can.  Set up a monthly bank draft of a set amount so that you can be sure you are saving.  Everything will add up, and because of compounding interest, the sooner you start, the better.

(6) Financial Advisors Always Work in Your Best Interests

Not all financial planners are created equal.  Though many people believe financial advisors have to work in your best interests, it simply isn’t true.  Only financial planners who are fiduciaries are required by law to act in your best interests. Ask your financial advisor if he/she is a fiduciary and look for someone who says “yes.”

If you have not started a retirement or estate plan, reach out to professionals 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!

 

4 Benefits to Talking to Your Teen About Prenups

By: Sarah Stewart Legal Group

It is common knowledge that the divorce rate in the U.S. hovers around 50%.  Parents, especially those who have been through divorce themselves, are aware of the complications divorce can cause, particularly for young couples.

Though having a contract in place before marriage may not sound sexy, prenups are a great idea for young people looking to start their families.  Parents can make their children’s lives easier by bringing up the topic of prenups when their children first start dating, usually in their teens.

There are 4 benefits to talking to your teens about prenups before they find the person they want to be with forever.

(1) Prenups Are Good For You

We all hear the horrible stories about divorce battles fought in court.  Some of us may have even lived them.  Prenups make those battles much easier because you have a template to follow when you’re going though the process.  You planned out what would happen before you even got married, so the court, given no unforeseen circumstances, will generally honor the contract.

A divorce that could have taken years to complete, can be done in a matter of weeks.  That can save you, or your kids, a lot of stress and time!

(2) Teach Your Kids About Prenups So They Know What They Are

For many of us, the concept of a prenup never came up before we were engaged and thinking about marriage.  Then, for some of us, thinking about the end of the marriage to the person we love before the marriage has even started, seemed in poor taste.

Educate your kids now so that they know what these documents are and what they mean.  Then, they and their future fiance will know what is available to them and the benefits of having a prenup in place.

(3) Protect Family Wealth and Inheritance

The reality is, if you are wealthy and your children stand to inherit a significant amount of wealth, a prenup will be even more beneficial to them than the regular Joe.  Prenups protect those inherited assets from the future spouse.

Moreover, for couples who marry later in life, they often bring in their own significant assets- real estate, retirement accounts, businesses, etc.  For couples marrying later, a prenup allowing them to keep their assets separate is extremely beneficial if you end up in a divorce later in life.

(4) You’re Not Attacking Anyone

People can become defensive when they are confronted with advice about prenups after a proposal.  They can think breaching the topic means you don’t like their current partner.  If you can bring the subject up years before your child has found a significant relationship, you can take a lot of the emotion out of the subject and focus on the benefits your child can receive.

You may find bringing up the topic of prenups with your teen difficult.  Celebrity divorce and death are all over the news.  One way to start the conversation may be commenting on the current situation of a celebrity. You may also consider bringing your kids in for your estate planning discussions with your advisors and asking that advisor to discuss prenups.

However you choose to do it, talking about prenups with your kids is a great way to prepare them and protect them in the future!

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!

 

7 Little Known Adoption Facts

By Sarah Stewart Legal Group

With over 135,000 children adopted each year and nearly 428,000 children in foster care, adoption is common in the U.S.  Adoption is a wonderful option for many families. But, the process is complicated and can be emotional for everyone involved.

Here are 7 facts you may not have known about adoption in the U.S.

(1) A Lot of People Are Affected By Adoption

Nearly 100 million U.S. citizens have adoption in their families. Almost 60 % of Americans have adopted or have experience with adoption. And, according to data from 2013, 7 million Americans living that year were adopted.

(2) You Can Get Tax Breaks with Adoption

Adoptive parents can take advantage of 2 main tax benefits.  First, parents can get a tax credit for some expenses paid to adopt a child. For 2017, the maximum credit amount is $13,570. Second, parents can exclude employer- provided adoption assistance from their incomes.

(3) It Can Be Expensive

There are several different avenues people can take to adopt.  Their options include private adoption, adoption through a government agency, or international adoption.  Each choice comes with its own special price tag.

International adoptions cost the most and can range from $15,000 to upwards of $40,000.  Private adoptions range from $8,000 up to $40,000.  And adoptions from government agencies generally carry a lot of financial assistance, so they can range from $0 to around $3,000. Generally speaking, the lower the risk, the greater the cost.

(4) Kids Looking for Families Can Be Older

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates the average age of a child waiting for an adoptive family is 7.7 years old and around 11 % of foster children spend 5 years or more in foster care. Don’t count out older children if you plan to adopt.

(5) Celebrities Are Adopting

Celebrities have increased the visibility and viability of adoption as a family choice in the U.S. Sheryl Crow, Sandra Bullock, Angelina Jolie, and Madonna are just a few of many celebrities who have adopted children.

(6) LGTBQ Couples Can Have a Hard Time Adopting

Statistics show LGTBQ couples are raising about 4 % of America’s adopted children. However, some states have laws that allow adoption agencies to deny placements with families that have lifestyles that contradict the agencies’ religious beliefs.

These laws found in states like South Dakota, and close to approval in Oklahoma, make adoption more difficult for these families.

(7) Controversy Surrounds the Well-Being of Adopted Children

According the the Atlantic, a 2015 study found that adopted children are “significantly likelier than birth children to have behavior and learning problems.” The study found that despite the fact most adopted children grow up in homes where the parents are wealthier and more attentive than their birth families, nearly 2 times as many adopted children were diagnosed with learning disabilities than children raised in a home with birth parents.

However, in terms of physical health, adopted children fair better than their counterparts raised in their birth families’ homes.

A 2007 report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found 85 % of adopted children have very good or excellent health, are more likely to have health insurance, and are less likely to live in poverty.

If you’re considering adoption, reach out to a professional today to help!

 

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!

 

Wealth and End-of-Life Planning for Those Aging Alone

By Sarah Stewart Legal Group

Nowadays, people are living longer and longer.  Many choose not to have children.   Some simply outlive their families, leaving these aging people to plan for their end-of-life without their family.

When these people age, what happens when they can no longer make decisions for themselves?

In order to have someone who can help you make decisions and manage your assets when you cannot do it yourself, you must put important estate planning documents in place.  These documents include healthcare directives, durable powers of attorney, and possibly Wills and Trusts.

If you are one of these people, or may be in the future, what can you do?

When You Don’t Know Who to Pick As A Decision-maker

Without the planning documents previously named, no one will have the authority to act on your behalf.  That means, someone will have to Petition the Court to become your Guardian and make decisions for you.  If you do not have family, it is likely the party Petitioning to be your Guardian will be the State.

In these cases, the State has decided that you are unable to care for yourself and need someone to look after you.  When they cannot find a family member to do that, they will file to act as your manager and decision-maker. The State will not know you personally and what your wishes may be.  The State will add your name to a long list of other individuals they care for and look after.

Wouldn’t you much rather pick a loved one you trust?

Who Do You Pick

Often, professionals who aid in your estate planning will ask you to name a primary, secondary, and sometimes even tertiary agent to act on your behalf in your documents. For married couples, the primary agent is usually the spouse.  For singles, this is a harder decision to make.

If you have a large family, but no children of your own, you will want to think about who you trust the most and who you are closest to in your extended family.  Reach out to them and have a discussion about your wishes for end-of-life and that you would like them to act as your agent. It is best to choose someone with a similar belief system to your own.

But, what if you’re not close to your family?  Then, you will need to look to your closest friends and associates. This, of course, can be challenging if all of you are the same age, as you may be going through the same problems at the same time and not be able to care for one another.  You will want to name at least primary, secondary, and tertiary agents, and strongly consider naming younger friends as agents.

Professional Guardians

If you’ve exhausted the list of people close to you and still do not feel comfortable naming someone as an agent, you will want to consider hiring a professional.

You may have a good connection with your local bank.  Often, they have departments that can act as Trustees for you and manage your assets when you no longer can.  In that situation, you would want to plan your long-term care ahead of time.

Sometimes attorneys and other professionals can be hired to act as Guardians.  You will need to find someone you trust and can see managing your finances and healthcare decisions long-term if you go this route.

You do not want to be forced to age in ways you would not want.  Reach out today to get your wealth and estate planning taken care of with a professional!

 

 

 

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