It is virtually essential for most adults to give estate planning proper consideration. Doing so helps your loved ones sidestep expensive, protracted legal procedures and helps to ensure that your final wishes are followed. Most states have similar statutes, although Oklahoma law does differ somewhat in its details.
Composing A Will
Your will is a document that provides specific direction as to how you want your property distributed. The document should address arrangements such as care and guardianship if you have minor children. Couples might wish to write reciprocal wills that mirror each other. Your will should designate an executor, an individual who will be legally responsible for administering the estate and ensuring that your debts are paid and your assets are distributed according to your wishes. Generally, Oklahoma law requires that wills have two witnesses. Oklahoma law includes provisions for unwitnessed holographic or handwritten wills, but these usually take longer to validate because a judge must verify the signature. Retaining an attorney to thoroughly review your will can ensure that the document is legally defensible and correctly written, and that it successfully accomplishes your intentions.
With or without a will, your estate will probably have to go through the probate process to ensure that your debts and taxes are settled and your assets are distributed. You can eliminate some of the time and expense of probate for your loved ones by creating a trust, or by transferring property and establishing joint ownership before you pass away. A properly funded and carefully established trust will allow you to avoid probate in Oklahoma. Generally, the probate process requires six months to a year to complete.
Power of Attorney
Granting a power of attorney to someone enables that person to take care of your affairs if you are incapable of doing so. How much power you grant is a personal decision. A power of attorney document can be confined to handling routine financial matters such as banking and bills, or broad enough to allow assets to be disposed of or purchased. Either way, you should make sure that you and the person you select discuss the philosophy you follow when you conduct business yourself. Additionally, you can create a medical power of attorney that allows someone else to make healthcare decisions for you if you are incapacitated.
Health Care Decisions
Advance directives are legal arrangements that allow decisions to be made about your health care if you become incapacitated. Oklahoma recognizes two kinds of advance directives. A living will outlines what type of medical measures you desire and under what circumstances. A health care proxy names someone who can make decisions for you if you are unconscious or comatose.
You can use either a will or letter of final instructions to state your final wishes regarding your funeral arrangements. You might want only graveside services, or maybe you have arranged to donate your body for research. Be sure to inform loved ones if you have registered as an organ donor. Prepaid funeral arrangements can sometimes assist survivors financially, but complications can crop up if the funeral home has closed or if payments have not accounted for inflation.
Unless your assets are valued at more than than $5 million, you will not need to take steps to minimize the estate tax burden. If you are the operator of a small business, creating a succession plan will facilitate a seamless transition after your death. A life insurance policy can allow a surviving spouse time to mourn before dealing with financial distress. Additionally, you can include provisions in your will to ensure that your pets are cared for after you pass on, if you have any.
This article provides a general overview of estate planning. Contact an estate planning lawyer in Oklahoma to address concerns about a specific situation.