Estate Planning Case Study: Married Couple with $3m Estate

While every individual and couple that engages in estate planning has a different set of circumstances - no two are the same, the following is a case study of a Louisiana couple that has accumulated some wealth, never engaged in estate planning before, has two adult children who are late 20's and early 30s, and wants to keep control of their estate, provide for the surviving spouse, preserve it for the kids, keep estate matters simple, and avoid tax and government interference.

Let's say that the couple owns a home in Louisiana and a condo on the beach in another state. The husband worked for a chemical company, built up his 401(k), and when he retired, he rolled over his 401(k) into his traditional IRA. They have a joint brokerage account, vehicles, and a boat. Total estate is $3,000,000.

Some of the issues we would discuss include:

(1) First Spouse Dies. We would discuss how they want to leave their estate to their spouse when the first spouse dies. Do they want to leave their estate in full ownership to their spouse? Do they want to leave their estate in trust for their spouse so that assets get preserved for the children after the surviving spouse dies? Or, since they live in Louisiana, do they want to leave usufruct to their spouse, giving their spouse an obligation to account to the kids at the termination of the usufruct? Each of these options has varied estate tax, income tax, and capital gains tax consequences. Gotta do this right the first time before the first spouse dies.

(2) Surviving Spouse Dies. Do they want to leave assets to their children outright or in trust? Do any children have special needs, the inability to handle a lump sum inheritance, marital issues, or some other issues that would warrant leaving the inheritance to a child in trust? Lots to discuss here.

(3) Who's In Charge When You Can't? Who should be primary and backup for Trustee, Executor, Durable Power of Attorney, Health Care Power of Attorney, etc. We'd discuss the life-support machines decision.

(4) Taxes. We discuss the distribution rules for IRAs and retirement accounts and how those rules differ for spouse and non-spouses as beneficiaries. We'd discuss the step-up and double step-up in basis which can save the heirs a fortune when the sell your assets.

(5) Avoid Probate. We'd discuss the pros and cons of the "Will Based Plan" and the "Revocable Living Trust Based Plan," which can allow the surviving spouse and the children to avoid multiple probates in multiple states - given that the couple owns real estate in two states. The RLT Program would keep brokerage accounts from being frozen in the future.

Again, since very person is different - their objectives, their family, what they own, don't take this info and think that it perfectly applies to you. You need to work with the right estate planning attorney the first time so that problems don't surface later.

This post is for informational purposes only and does not provide legal advice. Please do not act or refrain from acting based on anything you read on this site. Using this site or communicating with Rabalais Estate Planning, LLC, through this site does not form an attorney/client relationship.

Paul Rabalais
Louisiana Estate Planning Attorney
www.RabalaisEstatePlanning.com
Phone: (225) 329-2450