Importance of Documenting the Accounts in a Louisiana Succession After the First Spouse Dies

We started working on a Succession today out of our Baton Rouge office. The wife had passed away. Her husband was talking to me about helping the family get the Succession complete. The couple had been married for about 20 years, but they each had children from their prior marriages. The deceased wife had two children. The surviving husband had three children. The husband said that, for now, the relationships were good between himself and the two sets of children. He was hoping that the fact that his wife's estate needed to be settled would not harm the relationships among all of the parties involved.

Usufruct To Spouse - Naked Ownership To Children

We discussed how her wife left a Will leaving him the lifetime usufruct of her estate, and she named her two children as the naked owners. He stated that he wanted his three children to inherit his estate when he dies.

He brought in a list of all of the various bank accounts and investment accounts. They had about five bank accounts, an investment account at Fidelity Investments, and they owned a home worth about $500,000. We discussed how important it is now to fully document all of the bank accounts, investment accounts, debts, credit card balances, funeral expenses, and medical bills outstanding, because when the husband later dies, the children of the two spouses will look back to how the assets were listed when the first spouse dies to determine who inherits what after the surviving spouse dies.

I gave the husband an example. I said, "Let's assume that the two of you owned bank accounts totaling $200,000 when your wife died. Let's also assume that the two of you had credit card and home equity debt of $40,000. Further, let's assume that there were $15,000 of funeral expenses. What all of this means is that when you die, your estate will owe your wife's children $65,000."

Usufructuary Accounting

He asked me how I came to that calculation. So I said, "Well the $200,000 of bank accounts are community property so you each own half of those accounts. As the usufructuary. you own your half of the accounts, and your estate will owe your wife's children her half of the accounts when you die. So, let's start with the fact that you will owe her children $100,000. Now, since there was $40,000 of community debt, your wife's share of that is $20,000, and you can deduct $20,000 from what you owe her children. And since there were $15,000 of funeral expenses, you can also deduct that amount from what you owe. So, $100,000 minus $20,000 minus $15,000 totals $65,000. That's the amount your estate will owe your wife's children when you die."

Then, we started talking about their home. The surviving husband said he intended to sell the home in a few months and move into something smaller. So I gave him another example regarding their home. I said, "Let's say you sell the home in six months for $520,000. At that moment, you converted a nonconsumable (the home) into a consumable (cash). If you sell the house for $520,000, you will get to keep all of the money, but upon your death, your estate will owe your wife's children $260,000 (one-half of the sales proceeds). 

The mistake many families make is that even though money typically does not go to the children upon the death of the first spouse, it is critical to properly document the assets as part of the Succession process. If things are accurately documented in the Succession (also known as "Probate") when the first spouse dies, it will make it much easier to accurately divide the assets after the surviving spouse dies. Shoddy records after the first spouse's death will likely lead to estate settlement disputes after the surviving spouse dies because the families will often have to "guess" at what assets and accounts existed years earlier when the first spouse died and there are no longer records from years earlier.

Louisiana Statewide Succession and Estate Planning Legal Services

If you want to set up an estate legal program and you live in Louisiana, whether you live in Baton Rouge, Covington, Metairie, Lafayette, Lake Charles, Shreveport, Monroe, or Alexandria, or if you've lost a family member and you want to make sure that the estate settlement is handled the right way to avoid disputes, now or later, among family members, give our Louisiana toll-free number a call at 866-491-3884, and we will be happy to have a conversation about how easy it is to do it the right way, the first time.