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.

 

 

 

Do You Need A Will Or A Trust?

By Brittany Littleton

People don’t have to be wealthy to give serious thought to their estate plan. If you own a home, car or bank account, you have an estate. In last month’s column, I discussed the perils of transferring your assets to your loved ones as your primary method of estate planning. This month I want to discuss two alternatives: a last will and testament and a revocable living trust.

If you die without an estate plan, the state provides for the management and distribution of your estate under “intestate” succession laws. These default rules may not reflect your wishes. For example, a spouse is not the sole heir of your estate if you have children or surviving parents, and a spouse’s share will vary depending on whether children are joint or your family is blended. Creating a proper will or trust will replace the statutory defaults so that your wishes are known and followed. But how do you know which tool is right for you?

Wills

Think of a will as a legally enforceable letter explaining to your family and a probate judge who receives your stuff when you’re gone and who is charge of overseeing your instructions. Wills are relatively simple to have prepared and require no action on your part after you execute them unless your wishes change, but will-based estate plans are often complicated by probate.

Probate is the process where a court reviews your will, determines its validity and supervises the executor in following your instructions. All “interested parties,” potential creditors of your estate and the general public must be given written notice of the court proceeding through a letter and publication in a newspaper. Probate is lengthy, public and costly. If a will is contested by an unhappy family member, the process can become very expensive and drag on for years before your heirs can have what is left of their inheritance.

Trusts

A trust is a written document that provides for the management of your property while you are living – unlike a will, which only takes effect after your death. You usually act as your own trustee until you become incapacitated or die so you retain full control of your assets even though your trust owns them. If you are unable to manage your assets because of incapacity, a successor trustee of your choice can manage them for you without needing to ask the court to be your legal guardian. You also state in your trust how your assets should be distributed upon your death, and the distribution happens without court supervision or public notice. While trusts are more complicated documents than wills on the front end of your planning, they keep your personal affairs private and make your estate administration simpler; if you fund your trust properly, you will avoid guardianship court upon your incapacity and probate court upon your death. However, trusts aren’t simply about avoiding probate. You can design a trust to transfer assets to your heirs outright, or you can direct that assets be retained in trust and used for your heirs’ benefit for many years. Using a trust to provide ongoing financial support to your loved ones is especially useful if your intended heirs are minors, disabled or can benefit from asset or creditor protection or strategic tax planning.

If you decide to create a will or trust without the advice of an experienced estate planning attorney, be aware that certain requirements must be met for your will or trust to be legally enforceable. You must be an adult of “sound mind,” and the document must be prepared in perfect conformity with state law. These rules are for the protection of you and your heirs. If the legal technicalities are not strictly followed, a judge can declare your will or trust to be invalid – meaning intestate laws will apply regardless of what your document says.

Regardless of whether you are financially wealthy, you have a great deal to share with your loved ones. Next month, I will talk about ethical wills, which are a great way to pass on the wisdom that you have acquired and can be one of the most meaningful parts of your estate plan.

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.

 

BAS Needs Your Support Now More Than Ever Before

Our year-end fundraising campaign is an initiative that is vitally important as we close out 2020. We need your support now more than ever to help bridge the gap in our operating revenue that COVID-19 created this year. This is something that I implore you to carefully consider.

In this time of great national strife, the Broken Arrow Seniors staff and board of directors understand what you and every member is dealing with at this time. Individually, our staff is going through the same challenges. We recognize that in addition to the stress of the pandemic, not having your activities, programs, workouts and connection to your BAS community is something you have missed.

Along with the personal toll the virus has taken on individuals and families, the pandemic’s impact has shaken nearly all sectors of American economic life, and member-based organizations like BAS are no exception.

Operating revenue helps to pay for printing, livestreaming of classes, supplies, program expenses, payroll and insurance, among other fixed essential expenses. The pandemic has even required BAS to buy more supplies, such as masks and hand sanitizer, and conduct extra cleanings of common areas.

The Center provides so many opportunities for our members to grow and explore. We are the model in the region for promoting healthy social, emotional and physical engagements for adults 55 and older through programmed activities and social opportunities.

“I want to keep on living! If I want to keep on living, I’ve got to keep moving, and the Senior Center helps me do just that. Where else can seniors go to feel safe and be comfortable? I want to be with people my own age, and the Center is the only place that offers senior-specific exercise. I want the Center to continue to be there in the future for me and other older adults. The only way that can happen is with my support.” – Betty Eubanks, Member since 2008

Here are some of the added benefits the BA Seniors provides:

  • We offer daily meals for more than 110 people – up from 40 in March.
  • We offer programs virtually that you can participate in from the safety of your home.
  • Broken Arrow Seniors staff and board members remain laser-focused on meeting the needs of and advocating for older adults and our community as a whole.
  • We are moving forward with an additional building – pandemic or not – that will significantly add to your overall membership experience with more than 12,000 square feet of additional meeting space.

We are moving this respected organization forward every day. We didn’t stop when COVID hit. And we haven’t stopped delivering on our mission promise. We didn’t call for a timeout, and you shouldn’t either.

Please join us by making your tax-deductible gift online, by sending a check or by calling the office. Your generous gift of $100 will provide a daily meal for two older adults each month. A $250 gift will ensure we can provide livestreaming for our classes and a $500 donation will get the newsletter delivered to every member for a month. Every dollar counts, and we are counting on you.

With your support, we can impact our community in a lasting way.

Best wishes,

Sean Simpson

President/CEO

P.S. We’re asking for your help and support because, as members, you’ve already demonstrated your compassion to our mission. Would you be willing to make a special year-end, tax-deductible contribution of $50, $100, $250 or $500 to help us continue to deliver on our mission promise?

Staying Calm, Controlling Anxiety And Dealing With A Waspish Issue

Last month, I got home from work and was informed that five wasps were in the house, and they had been sucked up into the dustbuster. I knew they were probably coming in through the chimney, so I opened the flue. Out fell, crawled and flew 13 more wasps.

I used a second vacuum to collect the uninvited visitors. What happened next was interesting as I went about trying to get rid of the bugs without getting stung. The video my wife shot was hilarious as I harnessed my inner hunter-gatherer in dispatching the wasps. I was successful in my unorthodox approach – trash bag, bug spray, duct tape and running shoes – but the experience left me questioning my mental health.

On the other hand, my wife’s mental health got a huge boost watching me dance in the yard with a sack of wasps.

I know what you’re thinking: “Gee, does this guy only write about wildlife, critters and creepy crawlies?” Well, not typically. I write about what I know and experience. And what I know today is that stress takes a toll mentally and physically. And 2020 has produced more stress than I planned on having.

We’re headed into the ninth month of the COVID pandemic, and everyone’s mental health is probably being challenged in one way or another. For me, maintaining a safe environment at the BA Senior Center and keeping my family safe at home means a 24-hour-a-day commitment to health and safety.

As each day passes, it seems to be getting harder to keep anxiety at bay. COVID, wildfires, hurricanes, virtual learning, social and political unrest, the economy and now wasps!

It is important to regulate your emotions by staying calm rather than reacting violently with anger, fear or – my least favorite – tears. Finding a way to keep yourself mentally and physically calm will help you be better equipped to cope with anything that 2020 throws your way the last two months of this wretched year. Plus, it’s the extra stress the holidays add that will make 2020 even more out-of-sorts.

I cannot remember any time in the last 50 years where there’s been this much adversity to contend with collectively. People are numb, overwhelmed – Is anyone ever just “whelmed?” – and beaten down. Coping skills can be forgotten or cast aside, but now is the time to invest in self-care. It is not too late to practice or learn new coping skills – to adopt and to avoid – so that you can better manage your overall health.

Good Coping Skills

Practicing meditation and relaxation techniques – It’s a good thing BA Seniors has four yoga classes each week;

Engaging in physical activity or exercise – We live stream all our fitness classes so there’s no excuse not to exercise. You can also walk outside in the fresh air – while social distancing – which is one of the best ways to get exercise, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention;

Reading – Our Circle of Readers Book Club meets on Mondays;

Spending time with friends – or making new friends at the Tulsa Area United Way’s Retire United program. Its mission is to keep productive citizens engaged as valuable community resources through volunteering, social and educational programing and mentoring. Retire United members are individuals, either retired or soon to retire, who recognize the important role philanthropy plays in strengthening the community;

Spending time on your hobbies – crafting, crochet, guitar: We have your hobby solution;

Spending quality time with your pets – I have squirrels, wasps, dogs and cats;

Eating healthy – We feed nearly 120 people a month an average of 21 meals – more than 2,500 total meals;

Getting a good night’s sleep – If you’re doing everything on this list, you should sleep great. Plus, better sleep patterns protect your heart, improve your brain and reduce your desire to snack;

Making time for yourself – Do a crossword, sudoku, garden or read. Invest in yourself.

Negative Coping Skills

  • Using drugs and/or drinking
  • alcohol excessively;
  • Ignoring or bottling up feelings;
  • Taking sedatives or stimulants;
  • Working too much;
  • Avoiding your problems;
  • Being in denial.

My biggest coping skill is to find humor everywhere. That’s why when I prepare my column each month, I try to provide a little levity as well as look inside my life and how my experiences shape how we approach serving BA Seniors.

A final note of thanks. Last month, my column focused on how my team, volunteers, sponsors and members operate this respected organization and move it forward every day. We didn’t stop when COVID hit. And we haven’t stopped delivering on our mission promise. You read the column and responded in a substantial way. The first day Silver Notes was in mailboxes, I personally took 10 calls from members whose dues had lapsed – and they wanted to get current. In the span of two weeks, we added $8,000 in revenue from our members in the form of dues payments and donations.

Thank you for recognizing the role BASC plays in your life and in the community and for your continued support. I wish you good health – stay safe!