You need a plan for what will happen to your assets and loved ones once you are gone. Your last will and testament allows you to decide who receives your property, who will take care of your children, and who will manage your estate after you pass away. However, you must take formal steps to validate your will to ensure its authenticity and enforceability.
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A last will and testament is an essential part of any estate plan. If you pass away without a will, your estate will be subject to Oklahoma’s intestacy laws. This means your property will in most cases be proportionally divided amongst your most immediate surviving relatives, and any final wishes will not be honored.
In the state of Oklahoma, a will allows you to name:
- Beneficiaries to your assets. Beneficiaries named in the document will receive bequeathed property at the conclusion of the probate process.
- A guardian to your minor children. You can name a trusted individual to care for your minor children if they are left without a suitable parent.
- A personal representative to manage your estate. You can name a loved one or close family friend to handle probate, should your estate need to go through that process.
Wills do have some limitations. A will’s contents are considered a matter of public record and are subject to probate. Probate is notoriously expensive and time consuming, and it is possible that some assets named in your will could be sold to settle debts – potentially depriving your beneficiaries of their inheritances.
Despite these caveats, wills form the foundation of a well-designed estate plan. Our Tulsa will attorney will be honest and forthright about what your will can accomplish. We can help you draft a document that works to achieve your intended objectives. Ideally, we can pair a will with a trust that shelters many of your assets from probate and estate taxes. This will, called a “pour-over will,” acts to “catch” assets not placed in trusts.
Our firm can also help you update your will throughout your lifetime. You should plan to review and make changes to your will after any major life event, such as a marriage, divorce, the birth or adoption of a child, or moving to a new state. Even if no major life event occurs, you should still regularly review and update your estate planning documents.
Validating Your Will in Oklahoma
Wills must be validated in order to be considered enforceable. Simply dictating or writing down your final intentions on a piece of paper will typically not constitute an enforceable will. We can help ensure all legally necessary steps are followed when finalizing and validating your estate planning documents.
- For your will to be valid, you will need at least two witnesses. Ideally, these witnesses should not be beneficiaries. You will need to sign and date the document in the presence of your witnesses. Your witnesses must also sign and date the document, and they must be prepared to verify their signatures when the will is entered into probate.
- Note that you must be of “sound mind” when you finalize your will. In other words, you must be mentally competent and understand what you are doing in signing the document.
- While using a notary is not required to finalize a will in the state of Oklahoma, involving one can be useful. You can make a will “self-proving” if you have the document notarized in the presence of your two witnesses. This can expedite the probate process, as the court will not need to contact the will’s witnesses.
Leslie & Associates can serve as your guide and advocate throughout each stage of drafting your estate documents. We work efficiently to ensure your best wishes are protected.
How Does Proper Estate Planning Reduce The Tax Burden?
Estate taxes are taxes that are levied on the transfer of an individual's assets to their heirs after their death. The potential impact of estate taxes on an estate can be significant, as they can reduce the amount of wealth that is ultimately passed on to the next generation.
In the United States, the federal government imposes an estate tax on estates that exceed a certain threshold, which is currently set at $11.7 million for individuals and $23.4 million for married couples. The tax rate on the excess amount can be as high as 40%.
Proper estate planning can help reduce the tax burden on an estate in several ways:
- Lifetime gifts: One strategy is to make lifetime gifts to family members and other beneficiaries. By transferring assets during one's lifetime, an individual can reduce the size of their estate and potentially avoid estate taxes altogether.
- Trusts: Another strategy is to establish trusts, which can be used to transfer assets to beneficiaries while minimizing estate taxes. For example, a revocable living trust can allow an individual to retain control of their assets while reducing the size of their estate for tax purposes.
- Charitable giving: Charitable giving can also help reduce the tax burden on an estate. Donations to qualified charities can be deducted from the taxable estate, reducing the amount of assets that are subject to estate taxes.
- Life insurance: Life insurance can be used to provide liquidity for an estate and help pay for estate taxes. By designating a life insurance policy to pay out to the estate, the proceeds can be used to cover any tax liability without having to sell off assets.
Proper estate planning is essential for reducing the tax burden on an estate and ensuring that assets are distributed according to the individual's wishes. By working with an experienced estate planning attorney, individuals can develop a comprehensive plan that maximizes the value of their estate and minimizes the impact of estate taxes.