A local attorney and professor explained the importance of wills and trusts this week when Delta Kappa Gamma hosted an estate planning meeting at St. Brigid Catholic Church where Denise Deason-Toyne addressed wills and trusts.
For many locals, death is a sensitive topic because they may not be prepared to pass on their estate to their heirs. Some may not even know how to settle their affairs.
Workshops like this help to educate the public by offering free information on the subject, according to Denise Deason-Toyne.
Deason-Toyne is a lawyer and a professor of business law at NSU. Originally from Kansas City, she moved to Tahlequah to be closer to her family.
"A lot of people know they should do it and not put it off. There are misconceptions what a will can or cannot do and what a trust is," said Deason-Toyne.
She explained that some think if they have a will, their estate will not need to go through probate, but this is not true. Factors exist that will lead courts to award property to an heir, even if a will says otherwise.
Deason-Toyne recommends people start to settle their affairs, even as early as when they turn 18, to establish power of attorney.
"If you become incapacitated, there isn't anyone who can step in and manage your business affairs. If you have a power of attorney, you can dictate who will take care of your affairs. That will save parents money to get guardianship," she said.
It is also important for parents of minors to establish a trust, in case the two die in the same incident, to establish who will serve as guardian over the children.
"If you're not married and don't have contact with the other parent, you can appoint another guardian before giving custody of that person," she said.
She explained the difference between a trust and a will. A trust is active the day it is created, and is an agreement between the grantor and the trustee who administers it. Trusts are not required to go through probate when the grantor dies, and cannot be contested.
"The trust will name a successor trustee. The trustee can step into the role and start managing assets without going to court. He'll take those certifications to a bank with doctor's notice and maybe an affidavit to become a trustee," she said.
When a person dies and doesn't leave a will, it is the role of the state to decide where property is supposed to go. Deason-Toyne said it is important to establish an inheritance, especially when descendants are involved.
"In many incidents, you may have a situation where you have a surviving spouse. Upon the death of one spouse, the other automatically owns it," she said.
Often the surviving spouse will get married. If the person has not established a will, then upon his or her death, property will automatically go to the new spouse, not the children from the previous marriage.
"That can be a problem and can cause bad feelings," she said.
For more information, Deason-Toyne recommends contacting an estate attorney.