It’s crucial to make sure your assets are distributed to the people you intended to receive them in the event of your death. The less documentation that’s in place, the more drawn-out the timeline will be to settle your estate. This may be due to confusion or challenges to rightful inheritance. Or, it may just be the result of the state triggering the probate process, which is often slow.
The bottom line is, when people pass away without an estate plan, the result is almost always more time and money spent than otherwise would have been necessary. And you can almost always expect surviving family members to experience more stress and emotional pain than is necessary, due to an environment ripe for disagreement and challenges. That’s why our Stillwater estate planning lawyers recommend estate planning for everyone, regardless of health, age, marital status, or wealth.
One of the great benefits of estate planning is having someone guide you through the setup of all the necessary documentation to fit your specific circumstances. Such guidance is incredibly valuable, as the average person has very little knowledge of or experience with estate planning.
Our Stillwater estate planning lawyers can help you with:
- Financial power of attorney
- Medical power of attorney
- Living wills
Our knowledgeable Stillwater estate planning lawyers will take a methodical approach to tailoring your plan to your needs, explaining the documentation that will be helpful to your specific circumstances. Our lawyers have the experience to anticipate and help you prepare for possible contingencies, so your loved ones aren’t left with a confusing mess to tackle in the midst of their grief.
Our law firm respects the sensitive nature of the estate planning work we do, and endeavors to take as much stress from the process as possible. Our goal is to bring you the peace of mind that comes with having your affairs in order.
Estate Planning Helps to Avoid Probate
Probate is a process of legally validating a will. While not all estates escape the necessity of probate, undergoing the estate planning process will minimize the need for this process. Your Stillwater estate planning lawyer can help you to utilize all available avenues to streamline the settling of your estate, including distributing your assets according to a properly drafted will.
Probate is something to avoid, if possible, for the following reasons:
- Probate slows down the process of settling an estate. The more complex your estate, the slower the probate process. Probate can sometimes take years.
- Probate is not free; it drains money from the estate, and the longer the process takes, the more expensive it gets.
- Probate is not private; an estate’s probate process is public record.
One of the ways probate can be avoided is through the establishment of a living trust. This is a fiduciary arrangement in which a third party, called a trustee, holds assets on behalf of one or more beneficiaries. Having a living trust helps you avoid the delays and expenses of probate.
In addition to bypassing the need for probate, having your wishes delineated in a trust also eliminates the guesswork and confusion that can lead heirs to is to challenge the validity of a will. The less specific a will is, the more vulnerable it is to challenges from those seeking to influence the outcome to their benefit. When you have a will drafted by an experienced estate planning attorney, you can be sure it’s properly written and validated to prevent challengers from interfering with your wishes. Our Stillwater estate planning lawyers can draft your will properly to help prevent any problems down the road.
Why You Shouldn’t Die Without a Will
If you don’t have a trust or a will, your estate will be considered “intestate” upon your passing. The guidelines set by the state determine how to distribute your property, which goes according to family structure when you pass. This is called “intestate succession.”
The Rules of Intestate Succession in the State of Oklahoma:
If you are survived by children but no spouse, your estate will be divided among the children.
If you are survived by a spouse but have no children, siblings, or parents, your spouse gets all your assets.
If you are survived by a spouse and the children of you and that spouse, your spouse will inherit half of your assets and your children will divide the rest.
If you are survived by a spouse and a child or children from another person, your spouse will inherit half of the assets the two of you acquired by joint effort during your marriage. The rest will be equally divided among your children. The rest of your assets will be divided among your children.
If you are survived by a spouse and one or both parents, your spouse will inherit all assets the two of you acquired by joint effort during your marriage, plus one-third of the remaining intestate assets. The rest will be inherited by your parents.
If you are survived by a spouse and one or more siblings, your spouse will inherit all assets the two of you acquired by joint effort during your marriage, plus one-third of the rest of your intestate assets. Your siblings will inherit the rest.
If you are survived by parents only, without spouse or children, your parents will inherit all your intestate assets.
If you are survived by siblings only, without spouse, children, or parents, your siblings will inherit your intestate assets.
As you can see, the inheritance laws of Oklahoma were written with the concept of marriage in mind. As a result, it’s crucial to have a properly written will to protect the interest of unmarried partners if one of them passes. A cohabitation agreement is an additional way that unmarried partners can protect their interests.
Whether you are married or not, having a will ensures that you get to determine who does and does not inherit your assets. Don’t take the chance that your assets will be split up and given to family without any rhyme or reason. Contact our Stillwater estate planning lawyers so we can work beside you and set everything in order according to your wishes.
Estate Planning Goes Beyond Your Will
Planning your estate involves drafting a proper will, but an estate plan includes additional elements that each serve to streamline estate administration. The four main elements of estate planning are:
- Last will and testament Outlines who will receive your assets (property) as well as who is to care for your minor children
- Living Trust (also called an “inter vivos” trust) Prevents probate, preventing delays and court expenses
- Living Will (also called an advance directive or healthcare directive) Specifies your health care wishes and who is allowed to carry them out on your behalf if you are unable to do so
- Financial Power of Attorney (also called a power of attorney or durable power of attorney) Stipulates who will handle your financial affairs if you cannot
Having the elements of a properly drafted estate plan in place will give you the peace of mind of knowing your wishes are clearly outlined and will be respected both before and after you’ve passed. The paperwork also gives you the comfort of knowing you’ve saved your loved ones the confusion and stress of having to sort out the estate after your passing.
When you are looking for a law firm to help you with planning your estate, make sure you choose one that specializes in estate planning.
Estate Planning Client Story
The story that follows is intended to help you better understand estate planning. Names and details have been changed to preserve our client’s privacy, but the information’s value remains. Please read on to learn as much as you can, then give us a call to discuss your estate planning needs.
On a sunny spring morning in Oklahoma not very long ago, Mary Gibson and her great aunt, Ida Marks sat down with Stillwater estate planning lawyer James V. Murray. When Mary called to make the appointment the week before, she’d simply said that Ida wanted to talk about an estate plan.
Mary settled Ida comfortably in one of the chairs across From Attorney Murray and took the seat beside her. Mary nodded for her great aunt to begin, but the older woman patted Mary’s hand and said, “Please dear, you tell it to this nice young man.”
“You see,” Mary said to Attorney Murray, “Aunt Ida lost the love of her life, Arnold, a few months back. Technically, Ida is not my aunt, to be completely clear about it, but that’s ‘neither here nor there.’ She was my grandmother’s best friend. I’ve known this woman all my life and I love her dearly. To me, she’ll always be ‘Aunt Ida.’ I am here at her request to help articulate her needs and to ask that you take good care of her.” Mary squeezed Ida’s hand and the old woman smiled.
“Ida was married to another man named Mort until her early sixties, when he died unexpectedly. They had no children. She’d always hoped to have them, but it was not to be. Their marriage was not a love story for the ages, but times were different in the middle of the previous century, so she tells me, and they got on okay.
“I was five when Grandma brought me with her to bingo night at church. That’s when I met my Aunt Ida. We bonded instantly and I guess we adopted each other,” Mary said with a smile as Ida nodded.
“After Mort’s death, Ida knew she’d never remarry. Between volunteering at the local animal shelter and the library, her friends—
“And my niece,” Ida chimed in, smiling.
“You bet,” said, Mary. Then one day when she wasn’t looking for him, she met Arnold. They were both volunteering at a book drive for the library. They got to talking, and —”
“He was the love of my life,” said Ida wistfully. “Love of my life.”
Mary took Ida’s hand once more in hers and patted it. “They were together for twenty-three wonderful years until Arnold passed a few months ago,” Mary continued.
“Arnold intended for Ida to inherit,” said Mary, “He told me so on at least three occasions. Though she’d refused to get married again — he’d proposed half a dozen times — he considered her his soulmate.”
“And he didn’t have a will?” Murray guessed.
“No will,” Mary confirmed. “That’s when the son magically appeared.
“Except for Arnold’s life insurance, in which Ida was designated beneficiary, the state sorted out probate and gave the entire estate to Arnold’s estranged son,” said Mary, shaking her head in disbelief. “He hadn’t even seen his father in over twenty years, if you can believe it.”
“I met him the once,” said Ida, shaking her head with Mary. “He came around looking for money. I could see the sorrow and shame in Arnold’s eyes; my heart hurt for him.”
“When the dust settled, poor Ida got nothing,” said Mary, pressing her lips together in a thin line. “Arnold’s son already has a ‘for sale’ sign on the front lawn of his lovely craftsman home.”
“That’s very unfortunate,” said Attorney Murray when the ladies paused, shaking their heads. “It’s also not as uncommon as one may wish it to be. Even in the twenty-first century, the laws do not provide equal protection to unwed domestic partners.
“In cases like yours, it can seem as if the partner left behind the ‘invisible man.’ That’s why it’s crucial to get an estate plan in place that specifically states who you’d like to handle your finances and make medical decisions for you if you aren’t able. The plan should also include a clear will that indicates what you wish to leave to whom, and it should all be wrapped into a living trust to avoid the probate process and protect your estate from taxes.
“Absolutely right!” Declared Ida. She then turned and gave Mary a nod, and Mary placed a thick folder on Attorney Murray’s desk.
Murray looked at the thick file in front of him without opening it and said sadly, “I truly am sorry, Ms. Marks, but without a will, there’s nothing I can do to recover any of Arnold’s assets on your behalf.”
There was a moment of silence as Ida and Mary blinked at Attorney Murray. He’d seen this before. It was always difficult to hear. He knew it would be no good to offer an additional placating word. Anything he said now would just sound trite. He waited.
He was completely unprepared for what came next.
Ida and Mary went from blinking at him to looking at each other. Then together they began a giggle that build into full blown laughter.
Stunned, it was Attorney Murray’s turn to sit blinking back.
“Hoo! Child, we don’t expect you to fix Arnie’s estate,” said Ida, settling back down. “Poor man never was much for paperwork, I’ll give him that,” giggle.
Murray waited, still lost.
“That there is my estate. We are here to prevent the same fiasco from happening to my dear niece here when I pass. You see, I have two grasping younger sisters. And since I am after-all, closer now to 90 than I am to 80, well, this whole rigamarole got me to thinking, I’d better put my estate in order while I’m still young!
“I already know what I want. I need you to draw up a durable power of attorney and a healthcare directive and put Mary on both as decision-maker. I also want you to put her down to inherit 75% of my estate, with the other 25% to the humane society. Wrap it all up in a trust for me, could you do that?”
It was Attorney Murray’s turn to giggle now. It quickly spread until the three of them laughed so loud Murray’s paralegal came in to find out what was so funny.
Call Our Stillwater Estate Planning Lawyers Today
We hope this information has given you a better idea of how estate planning lawyers can help you take care of those you leave behind. In addition to ensuring that assets are passed down according to your wishes, an estate plan helps remove stress and confusion during the settling your estate.
Since each person’s estate needs are unique, we urge you to give us a call us as soon as you’re able to schedule your free legal consultation. We’d like to talk about your circumstances and tell you how we can help.
Start the process by calling Murray Law Firm to consult with our experienced Stillwater estate planning attorneys.
Subscribe to Our YouTube Channel