Estate planning is not just for the wealthy, and is not simply a means of directing who receives property upon death, although that is typically a part of estate planning.  Planning for possible incapacity, temporary absence, and reducing estate taxes is equally important. We have over 20 years experience preparing estate plans to achieve a variety of goals for our clients.  


What are some of the benefits?

We customize every estate plan to suit our client’s specific circumstances and desires.  Keep reading to learn about many of the advantages that can be gained by skilled planning.

Continuing Care and Management on Your Terms.  We firmly believe incapacity planning is a critical part of any estate plan.  In the event you become unable to manage your financial affairs or care for yourself due to mental or physical incapacity, it is usually necessary to have a court-supervised guardian appointed unless you have previously made certain arrangements.  We can help you legally designate someone, in advance, who will have the authority to manage your financial affairs and make health care decisions for your benefit if you ever become unable to do so.  For example, your designated agent could be authorized to pay your bills, manage your bank and investment accounts, and/or consult with your doctors if you are affected by temporary or long-term incapacity.  With good incapacity planning, you can avoid the need for a court-supervised guardianship.  If you want, you can also give your designated agent the authority to manage your affairs while you are traveling, temporarily ill or injured, or simply as a convenience to you.

Nominating a guardian.  In a written will, you can nominate a person of your choice to serve as the legal guardian who would have custody of your children in case they are minors or incapacitated at the time of your death.  You can also nominate a guardian to care for yourself in the event you become incapacitated while still living; however, a court-supervised guardianship for yourself is normally unnecessary if you have previously done sufficient incapacity planning.  

Facilitating End-of-Life Decisions.  Most clients prefer to include an Advance Directive for Health Care in their estate plan.  This document enables a person to legally direct, in advance, whether the person will receive life support in the event the person becomes terminally ill, irreversibly unconscious, or suffers another end-stage condition, and is unable at that time to communicate his or her wishes.  A person can either make specific instructions at the time of signing the document, or use the document to appoint a health care proxy who will make the decisions for his or her benefit when—and if—certain situations arise.  The Advance Directive also allows a person to instruct whether or not he or she will be an organ donor, and provide more specific instructions about that if desired. 

Reducing Estate Administration Costs and Hassle.  Including certain provisions in your will can significantly reduce the costs of administering your probate estate as well as the work required of your estate representative.  Incapacity planning and/or trusts can also reduce or eliminate the expense and work required to probate an estate.

Avoiding the need for probate.  Regardless of whether you leave a written will, property you own at death must generally go through the court-supervised probate process. This expensive process can take months or years to complete. Estate planning can usually eliminate the need for probate if that is one of your priorities.  This can save your heirs time and money, and reduce their stress. 

Avoiding the need for ancillary probate.  If you own certain types of property (such as mineral interests or other real estate) in more than one state, a probate must generally be conducted in each state where you own such property at death.  Good estate planning can prevent the need for ancillary probate.

Tax Savings.  Knowledgeable estate planning can result in significant savings of estate, gift, capital gains, and income taxes.

Preventing Unwanted Surprises.  Failure to skillfully plan ahead often leads to unwanted surprises and sometimes disastrous results.  For example, most people assume that if they die without leaving a will, their surviving spouse will automatically inherit all their property.  But under Oklahoma law, if you die without a will, are married at the time of your death, and also have surviving children or parents, your probate property is required to be divided between your surviving spouse and children (or your parents, if you do not have living children at your death). The percentage share your spouse and children (or parents) will inherit is pre-set by statute.  This can lead to unexpected financial hardship for the surviving spouse, especially for smaller estates. This is just one of many pitfalls that can be avoided by seeking the guidance of a knowledgeable estate planning attorney. 

Preventing Fractionation of Land and Mineral Ownership.  Failure to plan ahead often results in unwanted division of real estate interests.  For example, ownership of a home or pasture may be divided among multiple children and/or grandchildren. This can make the property more difficult to maintain, use, lease, or sell.  It also often creates tension and disagreements among the beneficiary owners.  Oil and gas (and other mineral interests) are notorious for becoming highly fractionated as they are passed from one generation to the next.  In many cases, the shares become divided among so many owners that each owner’s share has little value.  These problems can be avoided with good estate planning.

Protecting Assets. Many clients want to ensure their personal assets will be protected in case certain situations arise in the future, such as claims brought by third parties relating to activities of a business in which the client is an owner or officer.  Some clients want to protect certain personal assets from possible future claims by their own creditors, or from potential claims by creditors of their dependents or beneficiaries.  Some clients are concerned that if they ever need residential nursing or similar care, they will have to spend all their assets on this care before qualifying for government assistance, leaving little or nothing for spouses or heirs.  Planning ahead creates options that can help with all these issues.  If you are concerned about asset protection, we can discuss the pros and cons of your options, allowing you to make decisions that are best for you and your family.

Maximizing Retirement Benefits.  Good planning can optimize the amount and duration of your remaining retirement plan benefits actually received by your intended beneficiaries after your death.

Managing Electronic Assets. So much of our property is now electronic (digital), yet this property is too often overlooked in estate and incapacity planning.  Most of us have an abundance of online banking, utility, retirement, shopping, and social media accounts, family photo archives, usernames, and passwords.  Many people have online blogs or other websites, and digital investments such as crypto.  Much of our medical information and billing is now maintained online.  All our digital assets, including the usernames and passwords needed to access them, are property.  In the event you become incapacitated, someone will need legal authority to access and manage these assets for your benefit.  Upon your death, who will manage these assets while your estate is being settled, and who will inherit them?  We specifically address electronic property in planning for our clients.

Charitable Giving.  For clients who wish to incorporate charitable giving into their estate plan, we can discuss options for maximizing the benefit received by your preferred charities, on your desired terms, while also maximizing available tax benefits for your estate, trust, and other beneficiaries.

Making Special Arrangements for Special Concerns.  We can help with planning ahead for special issues that may arise in the event of your incapacity or death: 

Young or Inexperienced Beneficiaries.  Sometimes children inherit property before they are legally old enough to manage it themselves.  Sometimes young adults inherit property before they have sufficient life experience and maturity to manage the property responsibly.  Estate planning allows you to instruct in advance how—and by whom—such property will be managed for the beneficiary until he or she reaches an age you feel is appropriate.

Beneficiaries with Special Needs. If you have a child or other intended beneficiary who is mentally or physically incapacitated or has other special needs, you can make advance arrangements for management and use of property you leave to the beneficiary.  This can help to ensure the property is used for that person in a way you desire.  If that beneficiary receives some type of state or federal financial or care assistance, you may be concerned that any property the beneficiary receives from your estate will disqualify the beneficiary from continuing to receive the government benefits.  We can discuss options that would allow your intended beneficiary to continue qualifying for government assistance, while also allowing him or her to benefit from your estate. 

Creditors of Beneficiaries. Are you concerned the creditors of one or more of your intended beneficiaries might gain access to the beneficiary’s share of your estate?  This can often be prevented if you plan ahead.   

Beneficiaries with Addictions or Other Detrimental Behaviors.  Sometimes clients want to leave something to a beneficiary (or to the beneficiary’s children) but are concerned the inheritance may be used to support the beneficiary’s substance or gambling addiction.  Some clients want to reward a beneficiary for making responsible life choices, but not for criminal or other detrimental behaviors.  We have planning options that can provide flexibility for unforeseeable situations, while giving you peace of mind that your hard-earned resources will be used in a way that you desire. 

Pets.  Many clients choose to specifically arrange in advance for custody, care and financial resources, to ensure their fur babies continue to be well cared for upon the client’s incapacity or death. 

Weapons.  We can help you arrange in advance for the responsible, safe, and legal management and transfer of any guns or other weapons you own, in the event of your incapacity or death. 

Family-Owned Business Interests.  We have planning tools to help clients achieve their vision for succession, sale or winding up of the family business.  

Preventing Unwanted Persons from Gaining Control.  For a variety of reasons, clients often want to ensure a certain person does not indirectly receive or gain control of property left to an intended beneficiary.  Here are a few common examples:

  • Divorced parent leaves property to a minor child, but does not want her ex-spouse (as the minor’s other parent), or the ex-spouse’s new partner, to gain possession or control of the property while the minor is too young to legally manage the property.
  • Adult child is married to someone with a gambling or shopping habit. Parent worries any property left to the adult child will be squandered by the intended beneficiary’s spouse, or that the spouse will receive the property upon the adult child’s death. 
  • Adult child has children of his own and is divorced. Grandparent wants to ensure that in the event of the adult child’s death, the funds are preserved specifically for the grandchildren’s college expenses, and are controlled by someone other than the ex-spouse.  

We have numerous options to help ensure your hard-earned property will actually benefit the person(s) you choose, and in the way you desire.

Who Needs Estate Planning?

Generally, every adult, young or old, can benefit from some form of estate planning.  Even a young adult with very little property has good reason to at least plan for his or her potential incapacity due to accident or illness. Why?  Under Oklahoma and federal law, when a person becomes a legal adult, the parent or other legal guardian no longer has legal authority to make decisions for that person regarding his or her personal or health care, manage his or her property, or access the person’s medical, financial, or other records or accounts.  

What is the Best Estate Plan?

We believe the answer is very simple.  The best estate plan is the one that most fully achieves the client’s goals with minimal hassle and expense, taking into account the client’s unique circumstances.  We make it a point to listen to our clients and understand their objectives and concerns.  Then we explain the most feasible and flexible options and our recommendations, so our clients can make informed decisions.

We use a variety of tools tailored to each client’s goals and situation.  These may include wills, trusts, transfer-on-death deeds and other types of deeds, strategic beneficiary designations, certain types of powers of attorney, advance directives for health care, and other means.  We offer discounts on certain comprehensive plans.

What If I'm Afraid of Making the Wrong Decisions?

Some people feel overwhelmed by not knowing where to start, or by the thought of making the decisions involved without knowing what options are available to them, or whether their decisions will create the “best” result in the unforeseeable future.   We can help with these concerns by guiding you through the process, step-by-step, and finding creative solutions to help to give your plan maximum flexibility for dealing with unexpected circumstances. The complaint we hear most often from surviving family members is not that “Mom and Dad made decisions I do not like.”   The vast majority of complaints from survivors are that “Mom and Dad didn’t have a plan, and left us to sort everything out without really knowing what they wanted.”  Usually, any plan is better than no plan.  And estate plans can generally be changed as needed. 

Many people find it emotionally difficult to think about scenarios in which they are incapacitated or deceased, so they delay planning until “sometime in the future.”  The end result, all too often, is that the person either dies or becomes mentally incapacitated (and unable to create a legally-effective estate plan) before they realize it is too late.  In our experience, it is usually easier for clients to have their initial estate planning discussions while they are younger, than when they are older.  Once clients have been through the process, it is usually not as difficult for them to review or update their plans as they grow older.

How Often Should My Estate Plan be Updated?

It is wise to have an attorney review your existing estate plan every 5-7 years, or whenever your wishes or life situation changes significantly.  A few examples:

  • You become a parent, have another child, or your minor children reach adulthood;
  • Family member or dependent becomes incapacitated, addicted, or their needs change significantly;
  • You or an intended beneficiary changes marital status (gets married or divorced).
  • You move to a different state.
  • You inherit or otherwise acquire new property, especially real estate, business interests, or guns.
  • Your net worth changes significantly. Have your retirement benefit accounts grown?  Did you win the lottery?
  • People you have previously named as representatives (for your estate, trust, powers of attorney or Advance Directive for Health Care) or alternate representatives are no longer available or suitable.
  • Changes are made to state or federal laws or regulations concerning wills, trusts, taxes, marriage, divorce, retirement plans, asset protection, powers of attorney, or any other relevant laws.

In many cases, a quick review can indicate the need for a simple change or two (or no change at all).  Maybe you have bought a new house or car and just need to re-title it in the name of your living trust.  In some situations, a will, trust, or other instrument may need significant revision.  For example, maybe federal or state estate tax laws have significantly changed, and you now could benefit from some tax planning.  Or maybe you have moved to another state with different laws that affect your estate plan. Perhaps you have just had another child, and want to include that child in your will. Maybe you are divorcing, and need to change the terms in your will or trust that currently benefit your spouse.


What is a Trust?

A trust is basically a legal agreement in which a chosen person (trustee) manages certain property for the benefit of whomever the trust’s creator (grantor) chooses.  Most commonly, a grantor establishes the trust to become effective during his or her lifetime (a “living trust”), appointing oneself as an initial trustee, and naming someone else as alternate trustee, to manage the property in the event of the grantor’s incapacity or death.  It is common for married couples to set up a trust so that both spouses are the grantors, initial trustees, and primary beneficiaries during their lifetimes.  Unlike a Will, which becomes a public document when it is filed with the probate court upon the creator’s death, a living trust normally remains a private document. 

Typically, the trust property is managed for the benefit of the grantor during his or her lifetime.  Upon the grantor’s death, the trustee either continues to manage the property for the benefit of whomever the grantor has named in the trust document as remainder beneficiaries, or distributes the property outright to the remainder beneficiaries.  This all depends on the instructions the grantor has left in the trust document. 

Property left to the remainder beneficiaries normally passes to them without the need for probate court involvement unless the trust is a “testamentary trust”.  A testamentary trust is one which is created within the grantor’s Will, and only becomes effective upon the grantor’s death.  In this case, the grantor’s Will must be probated in order for the trust provisions to become effective.

What are Some Common Types of Trusts?

There are many types of trusts which are set up for different purposes, and a single trust can be tailored to accomplish multiple purposes.  These are only a few commonly used types of trusts (or types of provisions often combined with a broader trust):

Tax-Planned Trusts.  To reduce or eliminate estate, gift, capital gains, or other taxes.

Special Needs or Supplemental Needs Trusts.  To provide support for a person with special needs or who is incapacitated.  Or to provide supplemental resources to increase the comfort or enrich the lifestyle of that person, without disqualifying that person from receiving state or federal assistance for basic needs.

Pet Trusts.  To provide resources and instructions for the continued custody, care and support of beloved pets in the event of the grantor’s incapacity or death.  This can be as simple as a few sentences within a broader trust established for human beneficiaries, or a complete trust can be set up specifically for the care of one’s pets.

Gun Trusts.  To arrange in advance for the responsible, safe, and legal management and transfer of any guns or other weapons you own, in the event of your incapacity or death.  In some cases, it is sufficient to include special provisions for guns in a  will or a broader trust, but in other situations, a trust set up specifically for guns and other weapons is highly recommended. State and federal laws regarding weapons possession, transportation, sale, and transfer can be complex.  A carefully-worded gun trust can provide a framework for the safe and responsible holding, maintenance, sale or other transfer of weapons in accordance with the grantor’s instructions.  It also provides instructions to prevent the trustee from inadvertently violating relevant laws.

Spendthrift Trusts.  To prevent creditors of some beneficiaries from gaining access to the beneficiaries’ shares of the trust property.  The grantor can also establish any desired limitations on how much of their shares the beneficiaries can access, when, and for what purposes.

Charitable Trusts.  To establish a framework for charitable giving, according to the grantor’s instructions, during the grantor’s lifetime and/or after the grantor’s death.  These can be structured in a variety of ways and can be designed to maximize estate and other tax savings.

Who Should Have a Trust?

Trusts can be extremely useful tools in an estate plan.  They can provide important advantages; however, a trust is not the best option for every situation.  Sometimes a client’s goals can be met more easily and with less expense by using other, simpler planning tools.  Whether or not we recommend a trust depends on multiple factors and should be determined on a case-by-case basis.  A “one size fits all” approach is not good estate planning.

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