As most of you will be aware, the virus called COVID-19 or “coronavirus” has changed our everyday lives during this time. As of this post, more than 340,000 people in the United States have tested positive for the virus, and it has cause around 9500 deaths. Around the country, including in Oklahoma, courts are shut down due to the quarantine initiative of the governments. In Tulsa County, the courts are shut down, including court personnel, until May 15th, 2020 (which will likely be extended). Only emergency orders and hearings are being held, and usually via an electronic video stream.
In Oklahoma, all estate planning documents need to be signed “wet ink to paper.” This means that no electronic signatures are valid, and no video-stream witnessing is allowed. There is a new law in Oklahoma that allows for electronic notaries, but a Will is exempt from this new notary allowance. In Oklahoma, estate planning documents need to be signed in person, with the testator, witnesses, and notaries all together while the signing commences. This can be a problem in the time of COVID-19, but most estate planning attorneys are taking safety precautions during this time, including us at the Skillern Law Firm.
What does this all mean for you? This means, if you do not have some basic estate planning documents in place, you should do it sooner rather than later. If the government continues to become more restrictive about gatherings and work, the chances to get your estate plan done becomes harder and harder. You should also review your beneficiary designations, and make sure they are all up-to-date.
What documents should you have done is a very common questions we receive. There are four basic documents, regardless of ones wealth or health, that everyone should have:
- You should have a Last Will & Testament that tells the probate court what you want to do with your estate should you pass away.
- You should have a power of attorney for finances. This would allow your agent to pay your bills, talk to your insurance, and make other time-sensitive decisions during a period of your incapacity.
- You should have a healthcare power of attorney. This would allow your attorney-in-fact to make medical decisions for you, and also consult with your physicians, if you were unable to make those decisions for yourself.
- You should also have an Advanced Directive in case you become so ill that end-of-life decisions need to be made.
One of the biggest reasons to get your estate plan done ASAP is the fact that the court systems are shut down in Oklahoma. If you do not have a power of attorney for finances or health, the usual way for people to be granted the authority to act would be through the guardianship process. However, since courts are shut down except for emergency situations, these guardianship proceedings are not being held. Also, if this is an emergency situation and it does qualify to have a hearing, these hearings are hard to have and can be time consuming to set up (and very stressful). This means that if you are in a situation where you need to be taken care of, and you do not have documents in place, the changes of setting up a guardianship is unlikely.
Also, since hospitals and nursing homes are not allowing outside visitors due to safety precautions, the changes of you getting emergency documents done by your attorney is extremely improbable. You cannot wait til you are on your death bed to have your documents executed during this time. You can save a lot of hassle, heartbreak, and stress by being proactive and getting your documents in place immediately.
If you want to set a free consultation (right now being held via the phone), please call the Skillern Law Firm today!
I have many clients that come into my office that have written, scribbled, crossed-out, or marked all over their estate planning documents. This can be a big mistake with big consequences!
What should you do if you have a Will or a Trust that you wish to change, amend or revoke? One thing people frequently try to do when they want to amend a Will is to cross out whatever change they want, and write in new directions and initial next to their marking.
A thing to remember is that your Last Will and Testament and/or Revocable Trust typically serves as the foundation for a comprehensive estate plan. Similar to most legal documents, your Will or Trust should be reviewed and formally amended on a regular basis (usually every 3-5 years); however, this needs to be accomplished with the assistance of an attorney, and done in the formal matter required by statutes. For a Will, that includes two witnesses and a notary. For a Trust, that includes whatever way the Trust document prescribed (usually a notary). Your Will and Trust is not like other legal documents where simply marking or crossing something out and initialing the change will suffice. In fact, usually it revokes the entire document.
I recently had a client who did such a thing – she wanted to get rid of a beneficiary, and simply crossed out the beneficiary she wanted out and initialed and dated next to the marking. She then passed away before we could do a formal amendment. The problem with this action is, at least in Oklahoma, marking and changing any Will or Trust without the formal amendment process actually revokes the entire document! The small amendment my deceased client wanted actually completely changed her entire estate plan. Her intention was for a friend to receive the entire estate. However, due to her scribble on her Will, her estate went through the intestate probate process, which means her (distant) family inherited her entire estate, which was completely against her intention.
Wills and Trusts have formal statutory requirements to keep fraud and misunderstandings from happening in the important process of estate administration and probate. If there is a question as to the authenticity of a Will, the Will, with markings on it, would no longer be clear as to what the Testator’s intentions were. This is precisely why the execution of your Last Will and Testament must be witnessed by an uninterested witness and a notary authenticating the signatures. Requiring a Will to be witnessed and notarized is the only way to be sure the Testator actually signed the document. If, however, you write on the Will or Trust after the original signing, there is no sure way to determine if you actually wrote the words or if a third party took the liberty after your death. If the probate court declares the Will or Trust to be revoked , your estate may end up being distributed as an intestate estate which could have very different results than if the Will is used to probate your estate.
If you desire to amend your Will or Trust, or even revoke it entirely, don’t try to do it yourself by writing on the documents. Take the time to consult with your estate planning attorney and make the changes or the revocation the right way, in front of witnesses, to ensure that your estate doesn’t wind up in costly litigation after your death.
If you have additional questions or concerns about wills, trusts, or estate planning in general, contact the experienced Oklahoma estate planning attorney at the Skillern Law Firm by calling 918-805-2511 or email email@example.com to schedule your appointment.
Most of our clients come to us to help make their loved ones’ lives easier – not more difficult. Many people will come in wanting a very simple estate plan because of the cost or because they believe their estate is not large enough to cause anyone any issues. However, often, very simple estate plans can complicated matters and cost heirs and beneficiaries more time and money in the future.
In general, even with a perfect estate plan, heirs and beneficiaries have numerous tasks to attend to, including paying the death expenses, handling creditors and transferring ownership of assets. If the deceased person did not properly complete the estate planning process before his or her demise, or did not execute the right estate plan, complications could arise.
There are several issues and events that could make an estate plan less effective. One of the most common mistakes in estate planning is to never update your estate plan. Our attorney recommends reviewing or updating your estate plan after every major life event (death of a family member, marriage, divorce, inheritance, etc.). It is important to update your documents in case there is a significant change in the situation from when you drafted it. Also, it is good to have your estate plan reviewed by an estate planning attorney in case important updates are needed in your will/trusts/power of attorneys/advanced directives due to change in the law.
Furthermore, conflict could arise if a person did not provide enough detail about how his/her assets should be distributed. It is allowed for individuals to leave the distribution decisions up to surviving family or even state law, however, some individuals may not agree. This often leads to contention and conflict that could build to a point where costly and prolonged litigation is necessary. In order to have a more effective plan, parties need to consider their assets and make decisions themselves, and they should put specific directions and details inside their estate plan to ward off any future issues and conflicts.
Sometimes, people may start out with an estate plan that simply consists of a Will and Power of Attorney. While young and without a lot of assets, that may be enough for your beneficiaries and heirs to handle your estate efficiently. However, as we age and accumulate more property and our lives become more complex, a Trust is often better for more complex estates. This is another area in which people keep their estate plan stagnant, and yet reviewing their plan or even making an entirely new one would’ve been a better option for their particular situation.
Many people do not realize that having an estate plan is an ongoing process. Just as your life changes through the years, so should your estate plan. It may seem inconvenient, but it can help ensure that your wishes and desires are known and executed correctly at the time of your passing. If any Oklahoma or Tulsa area residents are concerned about whether their plans cover all their needs and desires, they should review those plans and have their documents reviewed by a professional, including the attorney at the Skillern Law Firm. Gaining more information on planning tools and possible errors to avoid could also prove useful.
Estate planning is not just for after you pass away, it can also be very important for when you become ill or incapacitated during your life. The attorney at the Skillern Law Firm can assist with the creation of a comprehensive incapacity plan, as well as your estate planning for when you are gone. It is hard to contemplate and plan for if or when you will experience a major medical issue, but it is also necessary. Illnesses and medical issues can strike at any time, either through a disease or illness, or a carwreck or accident. Let’s go through some reasons how you can plan for an illness, and why you should.
The most common estate planning documents to get done so your affairs can be handled by someone you trust while you’re alive but ill are the Durable Power of Attorney and the Advanced Directive. Please read those previous blog posts about those documents for more information. Our attorney usually creates and implements those documents in conjunction with a Will or Trust, taking care of our clients both through their life and their passing. Why are these recommended? There are three major reasons:
1. To Have A Say In Your Future Medical Care
Through a Health Care Power of Attorney and an Advanced Directive, you are able to direct your health care when you are too ill to talk to the doctors. In the Advanced Directive, you are able to have a say in if you’d like to accept or decline life sustaining treatment or heroic measures (like CPR or the defibrillator). You can also have a say in whether you’d like to be kept alive using a feeding tube. You can answer these important questions that will need to be answered if you suffer a serious medical emergency. If you suffer from an illness or get into a sudden medical emergency, these documents can be valuable to answer medical questions.
2. To Protect Your Assets And Staying Out of Court
If you become ill or incapacitated, and you do not have your estate planning documents set up, your family will have to go to court to obtain authority to manage your assets. This is usually through a court process called ‘guardianship” or ‘conservatorship.’ Anytime court is involved, there are time delays, and usually some surprises. Going to court can also have high stress on the family while you are ill (which is already a stressful situation), and can cost thousands of dollars in unnecessary legal expenses. Also, these delays can cause your investments to suffer losses due to lack of management, and your real estate to become abandoned. There is also the risk that the court may select someone you do not want to manage your assets. You can get rid of those delays and risks by being proactive and getting a written incapacity plan, outlining who you want managing your wealth if something happens to you.
3. To Spare Your Family Difficult Decisions
An Advanced Directive can take away stress and anxiety from your family members, who will not be forced to decide whether to pull the plug or withhold lifesaving care from you. If you express your preferences in legal documents, ahead of time, it can alleviate that stress. A Durable Power of Attorney can also alleviate stress because the Power of Attorney you nominate to take over your financial affairs will be able to seamlessly take over your accounts, so your day-to-day bills and medical bills can be paid.
The attorney at the Skillern Law Firm can help guide you through the available methods, including advanced directives, trusts, powers of attorney and more. We can explain the different ways through which you can plan ahead for incapacity and help put a plan in place that provides you and your loved ones with the protections you deserve. Call us for a free consultation today!
As an estate planning attorney, most of my clients are meeting with me to help avoid probate as much as possible. I have written previous posts all about how to avoid probate. However, sometimes, probate can be beneficial in certain circumstances.
A lot of estates go through probate, which is the court process to distribute assets and pay off debts when someone has passed. Unless there was planning ahead, when most people die where they leave behind real property and assets, their estate will typically go through the probate process. A Personal Representative will be appointed, and the Will will be filed with the court. If there is no will, the assets will be distributed through the state’s “will” – which is called intestate.
If you are a beneficiary of the estate, you may be surprised by the long, drawn-out court procedure which you are at the mercy of. In Oklahoma, a typical probate now lasts around 4-6 months unless it is contested or if selling real estate is involved (which can prolong the process). However, the probate proceeding serves several purposes and once you understand them, it can make it easier to accept the waiting period.
Once the will is validated, the next step in the probate process is to appoint an executor whose responsibility will be to collect the estate’s assets, appraise the assets value, pay creditors, file taxes (if necessary) and finally, distribute the property to the beneficiaries or heirs according to the Will or the state statutes. What is beneficial about Probate is that is a court-monitored proceeding in which the Personal Representative is not only supervised, but he or she must comply with specific procedures and legal requirements. For estates where there may not be a trustworthy person to take control, this is a huge benefit. Even for estates where everyone is honest, having a court oversee everything makes it to where there cannot even be the appearance of impropriety. The court won’t allow dishonorable or unethical conduct by personal representatives/executors.
There are more benefits to probate, though. Personal Representatives are required to provide accountings, unless waived by all the beneficiaries/heirs. The court requires all of the beneficaries’ names, ages and residences, and all the beneficiaries are legally required notice of the court proceedings and any and all court dates. Probate also allows any person interested in the estate to contest the Will.
One note about contesting a Will should be made, however. A beneficiary or heir can contest a Will for reasons which include: 1) mental incapacity of the decedent to make a will, 2) duress, 3) fraud, 4) undue influence, and 5) any other reasons questioning the validity of the will. Beneficiaries and heirs cannot contest based solely on that they do not like what the Will says, because will-makers are allowed to make a will that includes their wishes, but they can be contested based on that the will-maker was not in the right mind to make a Will.
For more information regarding the probate process and how it can protect the rights of beneficiaries, contact our attorney at the Skillern Law Firm, PLLC.
The attorney of Skillern Law Firm, PLLC, Penni Skillern, recently had a baby girl in January of 2015. Yes, that is why there was a lack of blog posts and updates on our website. The first thing she did when she was able to go back to work was update her estate plan to reflect her new expanded family. Not only is it important to set up guardianship in your will, but its important to look at structuring your estate plan distribution for your new infant.
We have previously written about how to handle a minor infant in your estate plan before. Please read the blog post here.
For this blog post, we are going to discuss what to get done for your estate plan once you have the new baby. Having a child or children complicates life in many ways, and your estate plan is no exception. If you had an estate plan written when you were childless, it is important to reflect the monumental change in your situation in life in your estate planning. Most likely, you would want to leave part or all of your estate to your new child(ren). You do not have to have anything fancy like a revocable trust, however, it does need to be done. Here are four simple steps to take.
1. Write or Amend a Will or Trust
Even without children, having an estate plan in place is important. Generally, most young people do not think about getting an estate plan done until they have children. That is understandable, as most single young adults do not own a lot of assets to be distributed at their demise. However, once you have a child, it becomes not only important to write a will to discuss distribution, but also to name a guardian for your child(ren). Make sure to read a previous post about how to chose the right guardian for your child.
Once you have a will with a guardian appointed in place, if your children ever needed a guardian, the court would appoint the person you nominated in your will, absent a serious problem with that person. You can even name a separate guardian for different children if you wish. If you have not made plain in your will or estate plan who you wish to be the guardian of your children, and you pass away unexpectedly, the probate court will have no idea what your wishes were. That can cause fighting among the families of the two parents, each wanting the child. This can be stressful for the families, and especially the children left behind. The court would have no way of knowing which family member of friend who you wished to watch over your children if you were to pass.
The other main reason to write or update your will is that if you do not, and then you pass away, a portion of your estate may not go to your spouse, but may go to your children. If you pass away and have a young child, most people prefer that the money go to their spouse, who will use it to support their children.
Getting a will written and signed is easy, quick, and inexpensive. You can easily set up an appointment with an attorney and have one done and signed within a couple of weeks or a month. This important step can help your new family in unexpected ways and can alleviate an amazing amount of stress in the future if something unforeseen were to happen.
2. Buy Life Insurance
While our attorney was pregnant with her new daughter, she and her husband added new life insurance to their financial portfolio. The reason is simple: their lives were about to get more expensive. It’s not surprising to know that life with a child is more expensive than one without one. If you or your spouse were to pass away unexpectedly, are you prepared to take care of your child(ren) without the other person’s income? Life insurance is there as a safety net, to help take care of expenses that your deceased spouse would have helped with if they remained alive.
Obviously, this is more of a financial planning than legal planning. However, it is good to get both done when you are preparing or soon after you have a child. It’s best to have both your financial and legal plans in place, working together, when you have a child.
3. Write Durable Powers of Attorney and a Living Will
Even without children, Powers of Attorney and Living Wills are extremely important documents to have for every adult. If an accident or sudden illness strikes, these documents will make things much easier for your family.The Powers of Attorney (both financial and health), are documents that designate an individual to take care of matters if you are unable to. We have previously written about these documents, and you can read about Powers of Attorneys here.
Living Wills, or Advanced Directives, are also very important to have in your estate plan. If you have been to the hospital recently, you have probably been asked if you have one when you checked in. An Advanced Directive is a document that sets out your wishes for end-of-life choices and care. Oklahoma allows you to set our your end-of-life health care choices for three scenarios. Read about those here.
Even if you are young, childless, and healthy, these documents are important to have done. If you were seriously injured, these documents would let your family know what you wanted, sparing them very difficult decisions, court costs, and disagreements. There have been many famous young people whose families have gone through courts and disagreements because these documents were not in place. (Terri Schiavo was 26 when her illness began and she fell into a permanent vegetative state.)
4. Designate Beneficiaries on Accounts
One last simple (and completely free!) action to take is to name beneficiaries on your accounts, whether retirement, banks, life insurance, etc. All you need to do is fill out the beneficiary form provided by the account holding institution. By naming a beneficiary, you make it possible for the funds in the account to go directly to the person (or persons) you name, without probate. It is important to know the repercussions of naming minors as beneficiaries, however, so make sure you keep that in mind when you are planning for your new child.
If you do all of the above after you have a child, you are ready. Having a new child is a huge change in your life, and your estate plan needs to reflect that change. You are doing a disservice to your child if you do not plan ahead in case you are not there to take care of him/her. Your family would want to know your wishes for your child(ren) if you pass unexpectedly. Make an appointment with your local estate planning attorney today!
If you do not have a Revocable Living Trust, your estate will need to be probated or be small enough for a simple affidavit. Probate is the legal process required for estate administration and asset distribution. To read more specifically about what probate is, read our previous post “what is probate.”
One important thing about about probate is that is is time-consuming and typically expensive. There are court costs, publishing fees, and of course attorney fees. For this reason many people are able to shrink their probate estate using simple ways to avoid probate like beneficiary designations or a revocable living trust. A trust allows you to put all your assets into a trust, you then name a successor trustee to take over when you are incapacitated or pass, and your named beneficiaries who would receive distributions without having to go through court. It’s usually very simple and clean.
Regular probate is most likely going to be necessary for most people with a normal sized estate. However, those who have a smaller amount of assets may be able to pass along property outside of probate altogether or through the utilization of a simplified probate procedure. In Oklahoma, if the estate is worth less than $20,000, a simple affidavit can be used to claim the estate after a ten day waiting period.
For estates larger than $20,000 and smaller than $150,000, Oklahoma allows for a “Simplified Probate.” The executor or executrix can contact the probate court to request simplified probate if the estate that he or she is administering is valued at less than $150,000 ($175,000 beginning November 1, 2013). This includes all personal property as well as other assets. The benefits are that it is quicker than normal probate and the attorney fees will be less.
Whether your estate is too large for simplified probate or small enough, the best way to make sure your affairs are in order is to contact a qualified estate planning attorney. The attorney of the Skillern Law Firm can help you plan out your estate so your heirs are taken care of in the best and efficient manner possible. Call our office today!
Most people that come into our office expect to need a “simple” estate plan. Usually, they mean a will, power of attorneys, and a living will. No trust, no tax planning, and no trust provisions for their children or other family members. Perhaps the initial motivator for this is the lower cost, but also the understandable desire to avoid taking the time and energy to understand the workings of a more complex estate plan.
First of all, of course simple plans are less expensive and easier to understand. However simple estate plans are usually for small, straight forward estates. Small usually meaning an entire estate worth less than 100-150 thousand, and straightforward meaning married couple with adult, healthy children with no complications. Most couples estates are worth more than the smaller, especially when you consider that your estate consists of EVERYTHING you own (Life insurance, real property/homes, cars, personal property, retirement accounts, bank accounts, etc. Also, if you have children, grandchildren, or others that you care about and wish to see benefit from your estate, a simple plan offers absolutely no assurance that that will happen.
Here’s a couple of brief examples:
- John dies and leaves all of his assets to his wife Jessica. They have one child, Joe. A few years later, Jessica marries Jack, and they buy a house together with Jessica’s money, and she names Jack as the beneficiary of the IRA that she rolled over from John. Jessica then dies, with a Will that names Joe as the sole beneficiary. However, despite what the Will says, her second husband Jack gets the house, the IRA, and under Oklahoma law, one-half of all other property. John and Jane’s son, Joe, is left with little of her estate.
- Lisse has three adult children, Larry, Louise, and Lisa. Louise and Lonnie each have two children of their own. Lisse’s Will provides that each shall receive one-third of the estate. Lisse dies, and each child receives $250,000. Larry uses the money to buy a home with his wife. They then divorce, and the judge awards her the house in the divorce settlement. He is left with nothing of Lisse’s original estate. Louise uses the money to start a business, risky since she has little business sense or experience. The business fails, and she and her children are left with nothing. Lisa puts the money in a savings account in his name, but his Will provides that her husband gets everything. Lisa dies, and a couple of years later her husband remarries. Sometime after that he dies, and the new wife gets everything, and leaves nothing for Lisa’s children. After all of these events, Lisse’s children and grandchildren are left with nothing of the original estate.
These types of circumstances occur everyday and impact many, many families. Second marriages are very common, and as a consequence, children and grandchildren are unintentionally disinherited, and in-laws, spouses or ex-spouses, and creditors end up with the family legacy.
How do you prevent these types of things from happening? Call our office today about using a trust or multiple trusts as part of your overall estate plan. It will cost a bit more (at this time, but do not forget it skips probate costs), and take some more time to implement, but the savings and peace of mind can be priceless.
Most couples, especially married couples, get their estate planning done together and draft them accordingly. Most of the time, married couples will get a Family Trust, rather than two individual Trusts, and all the beneficiaries/executors/trustees are listed as each other. After the unfortunate event of a divorce, it is extremely important to get your estate planning updated to reflect your life change. Most people’s wishes and ideas about who should receive and manage your property after your death changes after a divorce. The only way to effectively express that intent is to have a new estate plan drafted.
When you get divorced, you absolutely need to update your estate plan. Oklahoma law provides some safeguards for Wills, Trusts, and certain beneficiary designations. Under Oklahoma law, your former spouse does not benefit under your will or Trust, only if your Will or Trust follow the requirements of Oklahoma law. However, these few safeguards are incomplete and will not change your estate plan to exclude your ex-spouse in some situations. The default rule will not revoke any gifts to relatives of your ex-spouse, for example.
It is important to update your Will and/or Trust after a divorce, because the default Oklahoma rules that may or may not apply, and an experienced estate planning attorney will know which ones need updating. One of the best ways to express your new wishes after the divorce is to create or amend your estate plan. This way, you are able to accurately express your new intent with your estate, since divorce usually changes your intent (i.e. leaving the ex-spouse out), and this will ensure that your wishes are clearly communicated.
One important thing to update after a divorce is beneficiary designations on accounts. When you select beneficiaries for life insurance, retirement plans, or bank accounts, you are making a legally significant decision. After you pass away, the institution holding the account will look at your account information, including the death beneficiary, and distribute accordingly. Ex-spouses, if not changed on the account, have a strong chance of benefiting from the account. Divorce has an very limited effect, if any, on these beneficiary type arrangements.
For example, most people hold a lot of assets in their IRA, 401(k), or other retirement plan. Most people do not realize that these retirement plans are governed by Federal law, and no state (including Oklahoma) can use a divorce decree/order to overcome the beneficiary designation on your retirement plan. This means your ex-spouse will benefit if the beneficiary is not changed. You absolutely have to change the beneficiaries after a divorce decree is final to express your new intent.
Most people have many other things on their minds if they have just gone through a divorce, but it is very important to contact an estate planning attorney, or be active in keeping your estate plan up-to-date. Please contact the Skillern Law Firm, PLLC if you need your estate plan updated or created.
One important thing that must be said is that beneficiary designations, including IRA’s, life insurance, annuities, bank accounts, etc., go outside probate and the trust. What is said in the Will does not effect what is said in a beneficiary designation.
For instance, if you want to leave your two children 50/50 of your estate, and you put that in your Will or Trust, but leave only one as a beneficiary or joint owner of an account, that one child will receive the entire amount of the account, and the other child has no legal right to the other half. Beneficiary designations trump whatever your Will says about the other assets.
This can also play a role in Guardianship designations in a Will or Trust. Some people believe that if they designate a guardian for their child in their Will or Trust, and then leave that Guardian as a beneficiary on an account, that the guardian will be obligated to use that money for the child’s use once they become legal guardian. This is not true. If the named beneficiary is left as a beneficiary on an account, then it is legally their money, not the child’s. You can leave the child as the beneficiary, and once the legal guardian is approved by the Court, they can access the account for the child’s use.
That being said, it is great to have beneficiaries on accounts, because it makes a lot of sense and allows the executor or trustee to focus on fewer assets to disburse. However, always keep in mind the distinction between beneficiary in a Will or Trust, and a beneficiary on an account.
If you do not have a Will or Trust set up, please contact our office today to set up an appointment!