Edmond Trusts and Wills Attorneys
Helping Oklahoma Clients Plan for Their Futures
Creating a plan for what will happen to our assets once we pass away is a critical piece of estate planning. This task builds a plan for our loved ones, who are typically the beneficiaries of property and other items of value and allows us the peace of mind of knowing our intentions will be honored once we are gone.
However, making a plan is not as simple as writing down your wishes. In the state of Oklahoma, you will need a trust, will, or some combination of the two to protect and preserve your assets. After reviewing the details of your estate and your personal intentions, our Edmond trusts and wills lawyers at Gossen and Schaller, PLLC can advise you on what documents make sense for your goals. We can then help you draft and review the text of your estate planning documents, make sure they are properly formalized, and assist you in regularly updating them as your wishes evolve.
What Is a Will?
A will, formally known as a last will and testament, is a legal estate planning document that lays out your intentions for your assets and minor children once you pass away. They are relatively simple to produce but have several drawbacks.
A properly formalized will in Oklahoma allows you to do the following:
- Designate who receives your property
- Name a guardian to any minor children if you are the surviving parent
- Appoint an executor to facilitate carrying out the will’s terms
- Name an individual to manage assets left to minor children
In Oklahoma, you are not required to use a notary to formalize your will. You must sign it in the presence of two reliable witnesses who will attest to your competency at the time of signing, if necessary. You can also quickly and easily update a will by either destroying the existing draft (with the intent of revoking it) or formalizing a new will that revokes previous versions.
Keep in mind that wills become public documents when they enter probate, the process by which your heirs are contacted, assets catalogued, and contents of the will validated. Disputes are common during this process, especially in circumstances where a family member or other loved one feels like they were unfairly omitted from the will’s content or your competency at the time of its writing has come into question.
Probate disputes often result in protracted litigation, delaying – if not endangering – your wishes from being honored. This can limit the efficacy of even the most well-written will.
What Is a Revocable Living Trust?
A living trust can also be used to fulfill many of the same tasks as a will, with several key advantages. To create a living trust, you – the trustor – appoint a trustee to administrate any assets you place within the trust, to benefit both you and beneficiaries you name. You can place as many or as few of your assets into a living trust while continuing to use or spend assets as necessary. By making the trust revocable – a revocable living trust – you give yourself the ability to amend the terms of the trust throughout your life.
Once you pass away, the instructions tied to the trust determine who receives your assets, when they receive them, and under what circumstances. This allows for a great deal of control and equips you to plan for many types of situations. For example, you might choose to leave an inheritance to a grandchild once they come of age, under certain conditions. This is distinct from a will, in which assets are distributed as soon as the probate process concludes.
Unlike a will, a trust remains private and is not subject to probate. They are also significantly more challenging to contest, meaning your loved ones are less likely to have to deal with a litigious dispute. If you so choose, you could place the entirety of your estate in your living trust, largely avoiding probate altogether.
Trusts are more complex than wills, however, and are not as easy to draft or formalize. They also require more administration that can warrant the use of professional services.
Whether you need a will, trust, or both is contingent on your individual circumstances. Every estate is different, and your goals are likely different than someone else’s. If you have relatively few lucrative assets – less than $200,000 at the time of your passing – your estate may be eligible for Oklahoma’s small estate proceeding, which is a simpler, less costly, and more efficient form of probate. If you are poised to qualify, your estate planning can potentially be less extensive.
However, it is still often in your best interest to establish both a will and a living trust, even if you have a “small estate.” Formalizing both a will and a living trust can help tie up loose ends and make sure all of your interests are protected.
Keep in mind that your estate will go through some level of probate, even if you place a majority or the entirety of your assets in a living trust. As we discussed above, the terms and contents of your trust are private and not subject to probate, but your estate must still be addressed and formally closed with the court, even if it is only a formality. It can be in your interest to establish a simple will in conjunction with a living trust designed to “catch” any remaining assets – that is to say, any asset that may have been omitted from your living trust. A will can also be critical to naming a guardian for any minor children should you be the surviving parent.
Whether you decide to pursue a will, a living trust, or both, it is important to incorporate at least one into your estate plan. Not doing so subjects you to Oklahoma’s intestacy laws, which divides your property amongst your closest living relatives. If no relatives can be located, the government assumes ownership of your property. The courts will also appoint what they deem to be a suitable governor to your minor children. Your wishes will not be honored, and you will have no control over who receives your assets.
Get Help with Your Trust or Will
If you are still confused about what estate planning document you need to form a robust plan for your future, we can help. Our Edmond trusts and wills lawyers at Gossen and Schaller, PLLC have over 20 years of combined legal experience in helping our clients create wills and trusts for all types of situations. We can evaluate the details of your estate as well as your goals for your assets and then work with you to develop a plan to preserve and protect them for both you and your loved ones.
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