Key Legal Issues for Seniors
Authored By: Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma, Inc.
Common issues we encounter at Legal Aid
- Planning for incapacity
- Transferring property after death
- Dealing with reduced income
Seniors need someone to take care of our affairs if we are unable to do it ourselves, and:
- An orderly way to pass on our property when we die.
- Often, debt counseling.
Planning for incapacity and death
- Power of attorney
- Advance Directive
Way to transfer property
- Transfer on Death Deed
Power of Attorney
- Authorizes someone to act in your place. Deal with insurance, banks,landlords, etc.
- Must have capacity, i.e., understand what you’re signing.
- Pick someone you trust to serve as attorney-in-fact.
You specify how broad you want it to be. One task or everything.
“Durable power of attorney” stays in effect if you lose capacity.
- Does not have any effect after you die
- Does not give ownership of your property
- Can be “springing,” but that presents problems
- Document signed and notarized.
- Witnessed by two non-related witnesses.
- Give to your attorney-in-fact
- Can be revoked with another writing, notarized
- No reporting required, unless you specify.
- Cheaper and easier than a guardianship.
Forms: contact Legal Aid
Advance directive A/k/a “Living will” is governed by statute. Includes several different provisions:
- Allows you to specify if you want to be kept alive by artificial means if you go into an irreversible coma, etc.
- Names health care proxy
- Organ donations
Forms widely available at Hospitals and Online:, just search at each site for "advance directive"
- Call Legal Aid 855-488-6814
- Email OKSPLASH@laok.org
Advance Directive, to execute:
- Must have capacity. Know what you’re signing.
- Pick someone to make medical decisions,plus an alternate
- Sign in front of two witnesses. Notary not required.
- Give to your health care proxy
- Give to hospital, doctor
- Can change by drafting a new one
Guardianship, a Court order appointing someone to make decisions and act in your best interests with regard to financial and/or personal matters.
- The ward (person who is the subject of the guardianship) must lack capacity
- If there is no durable power of attorney and/or advance directive, and the ward no longer has capacity, need to get a guardianship.\
- Requires court proceedings and annual reports.
- Deals with finances, personal care, or both.
- Conservatorship available for financial issues.
- Can also be named “representative payee”v ith Social Security.
- File in county where ward or guardian lives
- Serve ward
- Present evidence of incapacity. Letter from doctor.
- Cost: $235 filing and service fees. Attorney fees extra.
- Forms: Hire attorney, Neighbor for Neighbor
- Revocation Example: medical situation resolved,guardianship no longer necessary
- Requires court order
- If contested, must show guardianship no longer necessary
- Sometimes court is asked to substituteguardians
- Guardianship more complicated than power of attorney, but not unduly difficult.
Wills, trusts, transfer on death deeds
- Goal: orderly transfer of property upondeath.
- Most things can be handled with beneficiaries. They pay out to those persons upon your death.
- Insurance, bank accounts, CD’s, mutual funds, IRA’s, etc.
- House is most common asset thatrequires planning.
- Joint tenancy
- Passes to spouse upon death
- Potential problems if you put other heirs on the title
What happens if you die without a will
- Intestate succession
- Less expensive to draft than trust
- Requires probate
- Not helpful for minor assets
- Even if you have beneficiaries on everything, may be good to have will in case you miss anything
- Passes to heirs without probate
- Pay attorney to draft
- Requires updating
Transfer on death deed
- New procedure in Oklahoma
- Names beneficiaries for house
- Recorded before death. When you die, beneficiaries record death certificate.
- Inexpensive. Probate not required.
Dealing with debt
- As incomes decline, many seniors have difficulty paying debts as they come due.
- Debt counseling can help establish priorities, put minds at ease.
- Social security exempt
- House, car, furniture, clothes, exempt.
Where to get help
- Credit Counseling Centers of Oklahoma
- Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma (www.legalaidok.org or 888-534-5243)
- SPLASH Line: 855-488-6814
- Email: OKSPLASH.org