Estate Planning – Make it Count

By:  Jesse C. Chapel

It’s always good to have options.  And in Estate Planning, we are lucky to have a lot of them.  We have substantial flexibility in deciding who gets what and how they will inherit it.  There are few limitations.  We can put together a plan that best meets the needs of our family and our charitable goals. This plan can convey a final message to our families that expresses our values and our feelings towards them.  A well thought out plan will reduce the likelihood of dispute between family members. 

In Oklahoma, if we die without executing a Last Will, our estate will pass according to state law (sometimes called “intestate succession”).  Because of this, estate planners will often warn that in these cases, the legislature has written a Will for you.  The last time the legislature revised the succession statute was in 1994.  For some of us, our preferences for how our estate will be distributed will differ substantially from what a legislature came up with over twenty years ago.

To avoid having our assets pass under the laws of intestate succession, we can give final directions on who receives what when we die by executing a will or a living trust. 

Through the estate planning process, we can identify our preferences for how our estate will be handled.  Many of our preferences, of course, will be influenced by our family situation and other circumstances.  We will find that there is a wide-range of flexibility on how to deal with these issues.

We may have younger children and may decide that we do not want our younger children to have complete access of their inheritance until their age 35.  We can do that by directing that their inheritance be held in a trust.  Until the child reaches age 35, we may want our Trustee (the person we leave in charge of trust property) to make distributions for the child’s living expenses and education.  We could also provide for a down payment on the child’s first home or distribute funds for their wedding.  We may want to provide certain incentives for our child by allowing the Trustee to purchase the child’s first car if he/she maintains certain grades at school. 

We may not even want the child to receive an outright inheritance at age 35.   Instead, we may want our children to enjoy our estate throughout their lifetimes, so distributions of their inheritance will be limited to percentage annual distributions, or distributed over a stated number or sequence of years.  The distributions could be tied to their annual income, to encourage the child to remain productive.  Our options are unlimited.

Our decisions may be guided by unique circumstances. If we have a special needs child, we will likely not want the child to inherit the property outright, because doing so may cause problems in getting the child eligible for needed government benefits.  By directing the inheritance to a “special needs trust,” the trustee could make distributions for the child’s benefit that will supplement the items the government assistance is designed to meet.

If we have a minor child, a Will is a great place to nominate a guardian.  This will be the most important decision we will make. 

Our final estate documents can express the things that are important to us.   We can provide for charities or causes that have affected us personally.  We can provide a final message to our family explaining the things that are important to us and the things we learned over our lifetime. 

You don’t have to go through this process alone.  An estate planning attorney can help ease any stress you may have about the process and help you thoroughly consider the various options at our disposal.

You have worked hard for the things you have.  Estate planning is your last chance to have a say where it goes.  Make it count. 

For more information on estate planning, please contact Jesse Chapel at 272-9241 or chapeljc@andrewsdavis.com.


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