What Should I Tell My Children About My Estate Plan?

By Brittany Littleton

It is understandable that you would be cautious in talking about your estate plan. For seniors, it can also be difficult to find balance in wanting your adult children to be prepared to help you as you age but also wanting to maintain your independence from well-meaning family members who may prematurely decide that you need them to make choices for you.

Privacy is important, so I typically recommend that my clients limit the information they share about their estate plan with their children. However, I also tell them that keeping their estate plan a total secret is usually a mistake. If your family does not know that you have completed legal documents or where to find them, they will not know what you want upon your incapacity or death.

I typically recommend that my clients inform their adult children and any nominated decision-makers that they have completed their estate plan. If your adult children are not actively helping as an agent or successor trustee, it is usually sufficient to just let them know where you keep your documents if they ever need to access them. You can also share your attorney’s contact information, and tell your kids to contact the attorney’s office if there is an emergency.

Even if your nominated decision-maker is someone other than your adult child, it can still make sense to share this information with your child because he or she would likely be the person with legal standing to ask the court for permission to act on your behalf if they do not know you already have a plan in place. However, if you are worried that an adult child having information would create problems, talk to your nominated decision-maker and your attorney about things that may be appropriate in your circumstances to make sure a “problem child” does not try to intervene on your behalf against your wishes.

While some clients are too private, others want to overshare. Clients regularly request extra copies of estate planning documents because they want to distribute them to each kid, their bank, their accountant, their financial advisor, etc. I discourage this. Instead, think about sharing the physical copies on an “as you need to know” basis. Whether you share the details of your estate plan is a personal decision that I talk through with my clients on a case-by-case basis. You certainly do not have to invite your children’s opinion on your choices, especially if you know they are likely to create problems or argue with you about how something should be handled.

If your estate plan includes detailed special instructions that may surprise a family member, it may be because you are addressing an existing problem or specific risk that is already a matter of conflict. If that is the case, talking about your choice in advance may not be helpful. But if you are in a situation where you want to explain your rationale, an honest conversation can help your family avoid conflict after you are gone. Two examples where this may apply are: when assets are distributed unequally due to lifetime gifts, financial disparities or special needs; and if there are gifts that need explanation – like one child will inherit a business that they also work in and helped build, and the other will inherit the family home and cash.

Brittany Littleton owns and operates Littleton Legal. Her practice focuses on business law, estate planning, elder law, trust administration and probate. She is a firm believer that clients are best served when their legal, financial and accounting advisors are working collaboratively to strategize and advocate on their behalf.  

A Signature Partner with BA Seniors, Littleton will write a column each month covering issues such as how to avoid probate court, mistakes to avoid in leaving an inheritance or emergency decision documents every senior needs. If you have a question that you would like answered or a topic you would like to see covered, send your thoughts to Sean Simpson at sean@baseniors.org.

Some Things You Should Know About the COVID-19 Vaccine

Older adults are one of the priority groups for COVID vaccination. After health care workers, assisted living, independent living and nursing home residents are vaccinated, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that individuals 65 years old and older – along with other categories of essential workers – are next in line for vaccines.

Here in Northeastern Oklahoma, older adults are already getting vaccinated or will be vaccinated soon.

The COVID-19 vaccine has many people excited and optimistic because it will likely be the main element of ending the pandemic. We understand and appreciate your eagerness to receive the vaccine. While you’re waiting for your turn, there’s a good deal of information about the COVID vaccine that you should know.

On Dec. 29, the director of a senior center in Broken Arrow was given his first shot of the COVID-19 vaccine. A week later, he tested positive for the virus. It was shocking. What follows are many of the questions that arose following the positive COVID diagnosis.

Does immunity kick in right away after getting the vaccine? Let’s say you’ve received one dose of the COVID vaccine. After a week or two, you have some level of immunity, but you could certainly get COVID-19 if you’re exposed to the coronavirus. People can be exposed to the coronavirus right before or right after being vaccinated, and there won’t be time for the body to develop its defenses.

Many who are vaccinated will still get infected with COVID. That’s because during the clinical trials, the vaccines were shown to be about 94% to 95% effective – which means some vaccinated people were still infected.

Three weeks after the second dose, studies have shown that the vaccine efficacy is approximately 95%. That’s a very high level of protection, but it’s not 100%. So even after getting both doses of the vaccine, you could still get COVID-19, but your chance is much lower. And if you do get it, you’re probably going to have less severe case than if you didn’t get the vaccine.

Can I still spread COVID after I’m vaccinated? The rate of community transmission is very high – especially in ZIP codes 74011, 74012, 74013 and 74014 – so there is still going to be a chance of contracting the coronavirus even after getting vaccinated. There’s a lot we don’t know about COVID. We don’t know if people who are vaccinated could still be carriers of the virus, even if they don’t get sick. That means you could be protected yourself if you get exposed to someone with the coronavirus, but you could still be a carrier of the virus. When you get together with your loved ones, you could spread it to those who aren’t vaccinated.

The CDC says vaccinated people should still use all the tools available to stop the pandemic, including wearing a mask and staying at least 6 feet away from others.

What if I have friends who got the vaccine, too? Can I see them without my mask? It’s probably pretty safe to see others who were also vaccinated after everyone gets both doses and waits a few weeks. But because we don’t know if vaccinated people could still be asymptomatic carriers, if you participate in risky behaviors – like fitness classes, shooting pool or playing cards – you could infect others you have close contact with who aren’t vaccinated.

What is it going to take for us to be able to socialize as we did before COVID-19? The end of COVID-19 could come once we get to herd immunity. If you look only at adults over 65 in Tulsa County, that’s 97,000 people. There would need to be 82,450 people vaccinated to reopen the Center safely. That number doesn’t take into consideration everyone under the age of 65.

Also, clinical trials are just getting started on children, so it will take probably until summer or fall for children to be vaccinated.

When I get the vaccine, will I be bulletproof? Vaccination is not a “do whatever I want” pass but rather another tool to reduce our risk. Wearing a mask is another such tool, as is social distancing, and we want to keep using as many tools as we can to protect ourselves. Getting the vaccine helps our community to allow us to achieve herd immunity faster. And it also gives us license to do a few more things that we enjoy – though we must still try to keep as safe as possible.

Can I get COVID from the vaccine? None of the authorized and recommended COVID-19 vaccines or COVID-19 vaccines currently in development in the United States contain the live virus that causes COVID-19. This means that a COVID-19 vaccine cannot make you sick with COVID-19.

What are the risks of the COVID vaccine? It does seem strange that the side effects of the vaccine are the same as the symptoms of having COVID. The only difference is that one can kill you and the other can protect you. Side effects that have been reported include:

  • Injection site pain, swelling and redness
  • Fatigue;
  • Headache;
  • Muscle pain;
  • Chills;
  • Joint pain;
  • Fever;
  • Nausea;
  • Vomiting;
  • Feeling unwell;
  • Swollen lymph nodes.

Currently, the amount of available vaccine is limited. We must all be patient as we continue our ongoing efforts working with local health departments and the Oklahoma State Department of Health on the logistics of vaccine distribution.

The Answers To Your Vaccination Questions

Beginning Jan. 7, Oklahomans could begin registering to receive the COVID-19 vaccination using the Oklahoma State Department of Health COVID-19 online portal. The purpose of the vaccine portal is to allow eligible Oklahomans to schedule their COVID-19 vaccination based on their eligibility.

The OSDH has established a framework of a four-phased plan to administer the vaccine. The first doses of the vaccine arrived on Dec. 14 and were reserved for priority groups, starting with frontline health care professionals and residents of long-term care facilities. That was phase 1. As this newsletter was going to print, OSDH had entered into the beginning stages of phase 2, which includes adults age 65 and older, including adults of any age with specified underlying health concerns. OSDH estimates that there are more than 800,000 Oklahomans eligible to receive the vaccine in phase 2.

According to OSDH, vaccine appointment availability is dependent upon vaccine supply. New appointments are added as vaccine supply allows. The OSDH and the Tulsa County Health Department are working together regarding vaccine distribution. The state is reliant on COVID-19 vaccines supplied by the federal government. Officials reportedly are notified of shipments one week at a time. The limited supplies make it logistically impossible for OSDH to schedule vaccinations weeks in advance.

What is the Vaccine Scheduler Portal? The Vaccine Scheduler Portal is an online scheduling tool to help Oklahomans determine when they are eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine and help them schedule an appointment when it is their turn.

Where can I access the Vaccine Scheduler Portal? You can access the portal using your computer or mobile phone at http://vaccinate.oklahoma.gov/.

What if I don’t have access to the internet or a mobile device? If you can’t access the internet or need assistance accessing the portal, it is recommended that you ask a family member or friend to assist you with the registration process. If you prefer to use a phone, you can check your vaccine eligibility by calling 211. The OSDH strongly encourages Oklahomans to use the portal if they are able for a quicker, more efficient registration. Officials reportedly are notified of shipments one week at a time. The limited supplies make it logistically impossible for OSDH to schedule vaccinations weeks in advance.

Who can register right now? Anyone is able to pre-register and enter their information. However, only Oklahoma residents who are 65 years of age or older, as well as health care workers and first responders, will be able to schedule appointments in the system.

What types of questions will I need to answer on the portal to register for a vaccine? Your answers to the required OSDH questionnaire provide information regarding your readiness for COVID-19 vaccination and offer guidance and instruction to ensure your safety. You will be asked for demographic details such as race, ethnicity, gender and age. Medical history, including current and past ailments and allergy information, are included on the questionnaire, as is your COVID-19 infection history. You will also be asked for contact information. It’s important that you answer each question with “yes” as it applies to you. Do not skip over this part because these answers are what puts you into the correct priority group. For example, people 65 or older must choose “yes” to indicate they belong in this phase group. The OSDH will never ask you for your bank account number, password or other financial information.

What is the difference between pre-registration and scheduling an appointment? Pre-registration allows anyone in Oklahoma to register their contact information with the Oklahoma State Department of Health and indicate that they would like to be notified when the vaccine is available to them. After you enter your information, if you’re eligible to receive the vaccine, you will receive an email with instructions on how to schedule your appointment. You must register at http://vaccinate.oklahoma.gov/ to receive email notifications regarding vaccine appointment availability.

What happens once I enter my information? When you use the portal to enter your information, a message will be sent to the email address you provide to let you know if you are eligible to receive the vaccine at this time. If you are part of a priority group currently eligible to receive the vaccine, you will be able to schedule your appointment. The email will direct you to the portal to schedule your appointment.

Does registering allow me to move forward in line to get the vaccine? No. Registering will not change when you receive your vaccine. There is no list for Oklahomans to be added to in order to be included in the state’s phased approach to vaccine distribution. However, registering and providing your contact information will make it easier for the state to notify you when it is your turn.

When can I use the Vaccine Scheduler Portal to schedule my appointment? If you are part of a priority group currently eligible to receive the vaccine, you will be able to register immediately for your appointment. The email you receive after registration will direct you back to the portal to schedule your appointment based on vaccine availability at the location you select. Once you schedule your appointment, a confirmation email will be sent to you with a QR code and a record of your appointment time and location. You will also receive email reminders as your appointment date approaches. You will need a photo ID and the QR code from your confirmation email to check in the day of your appointment.

I have registered and am part of the current vaccination phase, but there are no appointment slots available. What do I do? If you qualify to sign up for an appointment at this point in time, you should receive a link to sign up for an appointment once they become available. Due to the high volume of sign-ups, it’s possible that time slots may be limited. Please note that appointment availability is dependent on the current vaccine supply in each county.

Why are there so few appointments available? The number of appointments depends on the availability of the vaccine. The state and counties receive a weekly supply of the vaccine that determines the number of appointments that can be booked. With demand being so high, it is expected that time slots will fill up quickly. If all slots are filled, you can check back periodically for the next available appointment.

I pre-registered, but I didn’t get a confirmation email. This probability is because you’re not in the current phase group. However, you will be notified when the vaccine is available to you. It should be noted that registering early does not guarantee an appointment slot when your phase opens; it simply makes the booking process quicker.

What emails should I expect to receive from the Vaccine Scheduler Portal? Currently, there are only two emails that you should expect from this system. One is a registration confirmation email and the other is a phase confirmation email that contains a link to set up an appointment.

What happens after my first appointment? How do I know when to get my second dose? The COVID-19 vaccines currently in use require a second dose. You need both doses in order for the vaccine to work correctly. Once you attend your first vaccine appointment, you will receive a follow-up email and an opportunity to schedule your second dose appointment.

Can I pre-register and schedule an appointment for multiple people in my household at the same time? The same email may be used to register people in your household. However, each registration must be entered separately. You may register other members of your household by entering their individual information into the system. As appointments become available for each individual, they will be notified by email.

How do I check for available appointments each week? When you’re eligible to receive the vaccine, you’ll receive an email with a direct link that is unique to you to sign up for available appointments. We recommend bookmarking or keeping this link handy in your inbox because you will need to use it to check back for new appointment slots each week. If you’re having trouble finding available appointments, we encourage you to check back periodically throughout the week for new openings. The best time each week to check for available appointments is between 5 p.m. on Wednesday and 8 a.m. on Thursday. However, you can use your sign-up link to check for appointments at any time.

How much does the vaccine cost? COVID-19 vaccine doses purchased with U.S. taxpayer dollars will be provided to Americans free of charge.

When should I receive the second dose of the vaccine? It’s recommended that you should get your second dose 21 to 28 days after your first dose of the vaccine, depending on which vaccine you get. However, it can be later if needed; the timeline is flexible. You do not need to schedule your second dose appointment on exactly the 21-day or 28-day timeline.

How do I register for the second vaccine dose? You are able to use the portal to schedule your second dose appointment. As you go through the scheduling process, the portal will prompt you to answer if the appointment is for your second dose or first. You do not have to receive your second dose from the same location you received the first dose. Additionally, it is not required to schedule your second appointment through the portal. The portal is intended to be another option for Oklahomans to schedule their COVID-19 vaccine.

An Ethical Will: Lessons For Your Loved Ones

By Brittany Littleton

You have a great deal to share with your loved ones, regardless of how much money you may have to leave to your heirs. Each of us accumulates a wealth of knowledge, experiences and values during our lifetime. An ethical will is a great way to pass on your unique wisdom and can be the most meaningful part of your estate plan.

 What Is An Ethical Will?

An ethical will is not a legally binding document. It is simply a letter – or even a video – in which you communicate values, sentiments or life lessons that you would like to share with your loved ones.

 What Might It Include?

Here are some ideas to help you think about what you might include as you draft your own ethical will.

  • Expressions of love and gratitude;
  • Beliefs and truths that have guided you;
  • Life lessons learned during difficult circumstances;
  • Apologies for times in your life when you feel you might have hurt others;
  • Stories and traditions that you would like preserved for future generations;
  • Explanation of why your property and money are divided up in a certain way;
  • Blessings, hopes and dreams for your children and loved ones.

 What It Probably Shouldn’t Include

Skip the judgments and criticism and instead focus on leaving a sweet legacy of loving words for your family. Think about the impact you hope the document will have and how you want to be remembered when you are gone.

 How To Write An Ethical Will

You do not need to be an accomplished author to write your ethical will. Focus on conveying heartful thoughts that you’d like to share as part of your legacy. It doesn’t have to be written in one sitting – you can add to it and revise it over time or even write it in a journal format over the course of many years.

 When And How Should It Be Shared?

Many people find that the process of drafting their ethical will helps them convey deep feelings or difficult to- express thoughts. If you find that your ethical will brings up things you’d like to discuss with your family, feel free to share it with them during your lifetime. It may draw you closer together. If you decide to share it with your family after you die, it should be kept with your legal papers and other estate planning documents. If you used an attorney to prepare an estate plan, ask the attorney to retain a copy.

I encourage you to commit to writing your ethical will. It will be a powerful process for you now and an inspiration and encouragement for your loved ones to cherish long after you’re gone.

Brittany Littleton owns and operates Littleton Legal. Her practice focuses on business law, estate planning, elder law, trust administration and probate. She is a firm believer that clients are best served when their legal, financial and accounting advisors are working collaboratively to strategize and advocate on their behalf.

A Signature Partner with BA Seniors, Littleton will write a column each month covering issues such as how to avoid probate court, mistakes to avoid in leaving an inheritance or emergency decision documents every senior needs. If you have a question that you would like answered or a topic you would like to see covered, send your thoughts to Sean Simpson at sean@baseniors.org.