When married couples engage in estate planning, one of the questions they often are required to answer is, "If I die before my spouse, do I want to leave complete ownership and control of my estate to my spouse?" Or, "Do I want to leave my estate to my spouse in a way that my children (or other heirs) are protected?"
Leaving all of your assets to your spouse is pretty easy to understand - when you die, your spouse owns everything. Maybe you are thinking that it is ok to leave everything to your spouse because you are confident that when your spouse dies, your spouse will leave it all to your kids. Or maybe you like the thought of leaving your estate to your spouse because your descendants circumstances may change after you die and you want your spouse to be able to leave the estate to your descendants the right way.
However, if you leave your estate to your spouse, your spouse "could" leave your estate to people other than your children, like your spouse's next spouse!
Some people want to leave their estate to their spouse in a way that their children or heirs are protected. The two common ways to do this are (1) in trust; and (2) via the Louisiana usufruct.
Leaving your estate to your spouse may be the best overall tax outcome, but it used to be the worst. In the old days, it did not make sense to leave your estate to your spouse because when you lumped your estate on top of your spouse's estate, it caused the spouse's estate to be subject to a 50% or more federal estate tax upon the death of the surviving spouse. But now, with an $11.4 million estate tax inclusion, and with portability (making it easier for married couples to exempt $22.8 million from the estate tax), rarely are couples penalized for leaving everything to each other.
The tax benefit that often results from leaving your estate to your spouse is that your heirs will benefit from a "double step up" in basis, for capital gains tax purposes. In community property states (like Louisiana) all community property gets a new stepped-up basis when the first spouse dies. And when you leave all of your assets to your spouse, all of the assets will get another step-up in basis when your spouse later dies. This can save considerable capital gains tax when assets are later sold, particularly if there is appreciation that occurs from the date of death of the first spouse to the date of death of the surviving spouse.
In addition, if you live in Louisiana, you are prohibited from leaving your entire estate to your spouse if you have forced heirs. Forced heirs are children of your that, at the time of your death, are 23 years of age or younger, or, are of any age but incapacitated.
Leaving assets to the surviving spouse is common for traditional families - one marriage and all children are from the one marriage. And if you really want to make it as simple as possible on your spouse when you pass away, consider establishing a revocable living trust and titling the appropriate assets in your trust. Assets in your living trust don't go through the court-supervised probate/Succession procedure, so having your assets in your living trust will prevent your spouse from having to hire lawyers and go through the courts just to get ownership of your assets after you die.
Other factors that are typically discussed when married couples engage in estate planning legal services include: who makes your decisions when you are incapable; protecting assets from long term care costs; and how will assets be managed and disbursed after both spouses pass away. These are all important components of any estate planning legal program.
Note also that if you have no legal plans in place, Louisiana laws won't do your spouse any favors. These laws will favor your descendants much more than your spouse.
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.
Louisiana Estate Planning Attorney
Phone: (225) 329-2450