Louisiana Succession

What is a Survivorship Clause in a Will?

What is a survivorship clause in a last will and testament?

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Quite frankly, it's a clause that is often in wills that no one understands, and is rarely applicable. It's one of those provisions that gets consumers to say something like, "Well I guess this is just more of that legalese that lawyers put in legal documents."

Here's some background: You cannot make a bequest of full ownership of an asset and require that they preserve it for another person. That, under Louisiana law, is called a prohibited substitution.

However, you may make a bequest of an asset to someone, and impose as a condition on the bequest, that they survive you for a stipulated period, which period shall not exceed six months after your death.

Let's say you leave your home to Harold. But if Harold were to die right after you (let's say one month after you), you would not want your home to go to Harold's heirs - you would want your home, rather, to go to Sally. You could leave your home to Harold subject to the suspensive condition that Harold survive you for six months. Then, when Harold dies one month after you die, your home will go to Sally, instead of Harold's heirs.

Since "Joe Public" doesn't, at first glance, understand the terms "suspensive condition" or "survivorship clause", these provisions often cause confusion and rarely are applicable.

One other note worth mentioning: the existence of a six month survivorship clause can hold up the Louisiana Succession, or perhaps even the trust settlement, because the rights of Harold, in our example above, are "in suspense" until the six month survivorship time period expires.

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

When You Look at the Initial Legal Planning Expense AND the Estate Settlement Expense, Which Estate Planning Program is More Efficient: the Last Will Plan or the Revocable Living Trust Plan?

People often ask how much a will or a trust costs. In this post, we look at the overall financial involvement, from implementation until after death, of having a Last Will-based Legal Plan versus a Revocable Living Trust based Legal Program.

For most, there are two different ways you can leave your estate to your survivors - through your Last Will and Testament, or through your Revocable Living Trust.

It is generally less expensive to establish a Last Will based Estate Planning Program because with a Will Plan, you will leave all of your assets in your name. You won't need to re-title your home, your other property, your investments, or other assets into a trust's name. However, when you pass away, your assets will be frozen, and your executor and heirs must go through a court-supervised process to remove your name from your home, investments, and other "probate assets."

When you set up your revocable living trust, and re-title assets in your trust, you are arranging your affairs in such a way that your trust assets will not be frozen when you die. Your trustee, when you pass away, retains thet authority to access, manage, and transfer your trust assets to your trust beneficiaries in the manner you arranged in your trust instrument. In effect, your trust replaces your last will.

While there is generally more cash outlay up front for the legal services necessary to set up a trust versus a will, the overall cash outlay considering the two probates the family must go through when each spouse dies, typically far surpasses the outlay of setting up the living trust and avoiding the two probates.

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

If You Have an Undivided Interest in Family Property, Watch This Regarding Your Future Louisiana Long Term Care Medicaid Eligibility

Some people mistakenly believe that an applicant for Louisiana Long Term Care Medicaid does not own property that belonged to their parents when the parents' Successions have not been completed.

Here's an example: Grandparents owned a piece of real estate. Grandparents died many years ago leaving two children, a son and a daughter. Either the grandparents' Wills, or intestate law (you pick) leaves the property to the two children, equally. The grandparents' successions were never completed leaving title to the property in grandparents' names.

Grandparents' daughter is now requiring nursing home care and is applying for Louisiana Long Term Care Medicaid. As part of the application process, it is discovered that Grandparents' daughter is entitled to inherit one-half of the property. Medicaid rejects the daughter's Medicaid application based on the Medicaid Manual's Estate definition, which provides:

"Count the applicant/enrollee's share of an undivided estate as a resource the first day of the month following receipt. Receipt is deemed to be the day of death in the case of a direct descendant or when there is an uncontested will designating the individual as beneficiary."

Medicaid correctly assets that even though the Successions had not been started or completed, one-half of the property is a countable resource, pushing daughter's countable resources far in excess of the $2,000 statutory limit. The Medicaid application is denied. If the daughter is going to stay in the nursing home, somebody will need to pay the nursing home the applicable $6-7,000 monthly amount.

Because receipt of the property is deemed the date of death, it behooves families to, pro-actively and promptly complete the Successions of their ascendants, so that planning can be done in advance of a nursing home stay in order to protect family property.

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

Is Estate Planning Mainly For the Rich?

Is estate planning only for the rich? Do middle class folks really need to engage in estate protection or estate planning?

While there are dozens of reasons people engage in estate planning with estate planning lawyers, this post addresses who REALLY benefits the most from engaging the services of the right estate planning attorney. Let's look at three aspects of estate planning - taxes, probate, and long term care expenses - and see who gets whacked the most from failing to plan.

Let's say Rich and his wife have accumulated $8 million. They never engage in any estate planning because they are too busy sailing on their boat and travelling in the Caribbean. But as they age, they get sick and they spend a staggering $1 million on long term care expenses. Then, they die, and between all the probates in the various states (they own real estate in multiple states), their estate incur a total of $400,000 in probate cost. Still, their two children divide the remaining $6.6 million - each child walks away with $3.2 million - not too shabby.

Now, let's say Middle Class Max worked his tail off to pay off his $350,000 home and accumulated $700,000 in savings. They also neglect estate planning. Later in life, Max has a stroke, and Max's wife has dementia. They too spend $1,000,000 in long term care expenses. They spend their life savings of $700,000, and Medicaid pays the remaining $300,000. They are not forced to sell their home during their lifetime, but Medicaid pursues reimbursement of $300,000 from the estates through Medicaid's Estate Recovery Program. During the probates, the house is sold for $350,000, Medicaid is paid $300,000, and funeral and probate expenses wipe out the remaining $50,000. Middle Class Max's two children are left with zippo, $0, not a thing.

So you tell me, which family would have benefited more from engaging in estate planning the right way? Rich's family or Middle Class Max's family?

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

If Your Estate Attorney Talks Too Much, Fails To Listen, or Speaks Over Your Head - Leave. Questions He SHOULD Be Asking

Some people get nervous before they go see an estate planning attorney for the first time. They don't know what to expect.

Selecting the right estate attorney is important in making sure that your legacy is preserved the right way.

Before we get into which questions you should expect to be asked by your estate planning attorney, let's address some characteristics of an estate attorney that should turn you away.

First, if you find that the attorney talks the entire time during your visit, then stand up an leave. Second, if your attorney speaks in terms you do not understand, get up and leave. And finally, if your attorney is not a good listener, leave.

With that being said, here are some things you should plan to discuss in your initial conversation with your estate planning attorney.

The first question I like to ask, right out of the box, goes something like, "So as we start a conversation about your estate legal program, what kinds of things do YOU want to make sure we discuss?"

Some people have specific things they want to address, such as, a blended family situation, a problem child, specific bequests they want to make, or providing for grandchildren, just to name a few. When a client has specific issues they want to address, we need to drill down on those to make sure the estate program is tailored for their specific needs.

Other people do not have a specific issue they want to address. Perhaps they don't know what to ask and they just want to make sure their estate legal affairs are in order.

In every estate planning conversation, there are discussions about particular issues that each client has, and there are questions that we ask virtually every client. Here's a few of the questions asked of just about every client (assuming a married couple but can be adapted to a single person):

(1) After you both pass, how do you want your estate disbursed?

(2) If you have to put someone in charge of the disbursement, who should it be?

(3) When one of you passes, how do you want to leave things to the surviving spouse? Remarriage is in the back of people's minds during this conversation.

(4) If you become incapacitated while you are alive, who do you want to make your medical and financial decisions?

(5) Do you want to leave bequests through your last will and testament (requires probate), or through your revocable living trust (avoids probate)?

What I have not addressed in this short post are questions related to Medicaid Planning (nursing home poverty), estate tax planning (only affects the super wealthy), charitable bequest planning, and the creation of entities for lawsuit protection purposes (particularly if you own rental property).

The discussion you have with your estate planning attorney about your legacy is an important one. Make sure you work with an attorney who doesn't merely want to hear himself/herself talk. Make sure you work with an attorney who doesn't speak in legal-ese (over your head). And make sure you work with an attorney who listens to what you say so that he or she can ask the next right question - and then listen again!

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

Which revocable or irrevocable trusts allow you protection from the dreaded nursing home expenses?

"Do revocable or irrevocable trusts help qualify for Long Term Care Medicaid?"

That is the question we often get from clients and prospective clients who are concerned that they will lose their savings and home if they wind up in a nursing home facility.

There are many different kinds of trusts, but often people tend to break them down into two types: revocable and irrevocable.

Regarding revocable trusts, the Louisiana Medicaid Eligibility Manual could not be much clearer, "The entire corpus of a revocable trust is counted as an available resource to the individual."

Revocable trusts have never been used to protect assets from nursing home expenses. Revocable trusts are, however, used extensively for Succession / Probate avoidance purposes. And quite frankly, when the revocable living trust works like it should, it's a wonderful thing for the survivors of the person who set up the trust. When the person who set up the trust (Settlor) dies, the Successor Trustee (often a family member) can immediately disburse assets to the trust beneficiaries (often the children) without any of the attorney and court involvement, expense, and delay associated with a court-supervised probate process.

Regarding irrevocable trusts, it is important to note that not every irrevocable trust offers nursing home protection and Medicaid eligibility. An important provision in the Louisiana Medicaid Eligibility Manual provides, in pertinent part, that, "The portion of the corpus that could be paid to or for the benefit of the individual is treated as a resource available to the individual..."

There are several other factors that affect Medicaid eligibility when someone has established an irrevocable trust, but clearly of the trustee can pay corpus to or for the individual seeking Medicaid eligibility, then the trust assets will need to be spent prior to eligibility.

Some parents, in order to protect assets, establish an irrevocable trust and provide in the trust instrument that a trustee may make distributions to or for the children of the Settlor of the trust.

Here's my words of warning regarding Medicaid eligibility. Seek out good legal help in your area. Medicaid is a combined state and federal program, so you must work with someone who is well-versed in your state's eligibility provisions. Don't try this at home on your own. Get it right the first time.

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

If You Have a Revocable Living Trust, Then Why Do You Need a Last Will and Testament?

If you have a Revocable Living Trust, do you need a Last Will and Testament?

When someone dies with assets in their name, like real estate, or interests in a business, or investments, those assets will be frozen when they die, even if they have a Will disposing of them, and their survivors are stuck hiring lawyers and all will go through a court process commonly referred to as probate, or in Louisiana, a Succession.

Many people, in an effort to simplify their estate settlement and avoid the court process, often create a revocable living trust, and they transfer title of their assets to their trust while they are alive, so that when they pass away, the court process is avoided because assets in a trust bypass the whole “settle your estate through the court system” process. You simply designate a Successor Trustee of your trust who can immediately sell or disburse assets from your trust to your trust beneficiaries, all outside of government supervision.

Your trust replaces the Will because the trust instrument governs who gets what as it relates to trust assets.

But even if you establish your revocable living trust, you still need to have a Will just in case assets are in your name when you die. Maybe you left something out of trust. Perhaps you acquired an asset or account in your name after you established your trust, and you forgot to title it in the name of your trust.

Someone who utilizes a revocable living trust often has a last will that is often referred to as their “pour-over” Will because it pours over the assets in your name at your death to your trust. It is there only as a "catch-all" to cover assets that should have been, but were not for some reason, put in your trust before you died.

Now, your pour-over Will may never be used because everything you have either has a beneficiary designation, is titled in the name of your trust when you die, or survivors will somehow have access to the asset upon your death.

So, in summary, if you have a revocable living trust that is designed to avoid probate and provide for the distribution of your estate when you die, you’ll also have a Will, but your Will may never need to be used because the Will is there as a "catch-all" to allow for the transfer of assets that are in your name when you die and require a probate to access.

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

Why You Don't Need a Death Certificate to Begin the Louisiana Succession

Here's the typical situation: Survivors of the deceased wait to schedule something with the estate attorney until after the family receives the death certifcates - which always takes either weeks or months to come in. Finally, they sit down with the estate attorney, like myself, and say something like, "Well, before we get started, let me give you a death certificate because I know you will be needing this. Do you want an original or copy?"

Then, I respond to their dismay, "I don't need one."

Death certificates are not typically filed at the courthouse as part of the Louisiana Succession process. While the judge needs proof that the deceased actually died, along with information about whether they were married, where they lived, when the deceased died, and whether they had children, the judge does not need to see a death certificate. These facts are typically evidenced, or proven, by affidavits.

Typically, instead of filing death certificates at the courthouse, two people who have knowledge of the above mentioned facts each sign what is commonly referred to as an, "Affidavit of Death, Domicile, and Heirship."

The statement we often hear from survivors that "It won't do any good to see the attorney because we don't have death certificates yet," is inaccurate. Waiting weeks or months to get the death certificates is unnecessary waiting.

What do you need to get started on the Louisiana Probate (also known as "Succession")? You need the original Will, if one exists, and you need two people familiar with the family circumstances (such as a surviving spouse or adult children) to sign the appropriate Affidavits of Death, Domicile, and Heirship."

In addition, if you can compile a list of assets and debts of the deceased as of the date of death, that would be helpful, but this detailed information typically is needed later, not at the very beginning.

The family WILL need death certificates to, for example, have the executor open an estate account after the judge confirms the executor (or appoints an administrator). And after the judge signs the final Judgment of Possession, which orders third parties to transfer assets to heirs, the heirs will need a death certificate, with this Judgment, before the financial institution will release the funds or investments to the heirs listed in this Judgment.

Since delays are one of the main complaints about probate, it makes sense to meet with the attorney and get started on this process as soon as practical after the death of a loved one, rather than delaying until you receive death certificates, which can take weeks or months to arrive.

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

Will Our Joint Accounts Be OK If My Husband Dies With Children From Prior Marriage?

If a husband and wife have joint bank accounts that are community property, and neither has an estate legal program in place, and one of them dies with a child or children from a prior marriage, can the surviving spouse's step-child(ren) give that surviving spouse grief?

You betcha! Often when asked about joint bank accounts, the spouses are concerned that the accounts will be frozen when the first spouse dies, leaving the spouse unable to pay for funeral expenses and other ongoing bills. We often tell couples to ask their bank whether the account will be frozen when one of them dies.

But the potential problem goes much deeper than that. If the husband died first (with a child or children and no legal plan in place), his surviving wife shall have a usufruct over the husband's share of the community property.

And our Louisiana laws regarding usufruct and security provide that the usufructuary (in this matter, the surviving wife) shall give security that she will use the property subject to usufruct as a prudent administrator and that she will faithfully fulfill all of her obligations as usufructuary. Now in certain matters, this security is dispensed with. But not when the naked owner (the husband's child(ren)) is not a child of the usufructuary (the surviving wife).

This security which the surviving wife must provide shall be in the amount of the total value of the property subject to usufruct. So the more she has the usufruct over (bank accounts, investments, real estate, vehicles, etc.) the more security she must provide.

So, while it is not uncommon for a surviving spouse to have access to joint bank accounts she has with her deceased husband, it IS common, if the deceased spouse had no legal plan, that the deceased husband's children will require their step-parent to post a bond or security in order to protect their future inheritance. This security can be expensive on an annual basis.

While joint accounts may not be frozen, surviving spouse and his or her step-children will be required to go through a court process together (often called "Succession" or "Probate"). Each will be represented by a lawyer or lawyers. All assets of the couple get disclosed in the court pleadings, and the deceased's children will require their surviving step-parent to post a bond as security to protect their future inheritance.

It's at this point that things often turn ugly. We'll usually hear something like, "I hope she happy because I'll never speak to her again."

Or we'll hear, "If she's going to be that vindictive, just give her the damn money."

Note that many, if not all, of these problems can be avoided by taking a little effort to work with the right estate attorney to put the right estate legal program in place. Heck, you've earned it. Now it's time to protect it.

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

Will Prepared Through Suze Orman Kit Invalid in Louisiana

I was contacted recently after a father passed away. The adult children were hoping to get their father's estate settled quickly and easily. They mentioned that their father had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, that the diagnosis allowed only a short time to live, so he did a "quickie" Suze Orman will to specify how he wanted to leave his estate.

When I heard about the Will, I told myself I needed to see it. The son told me that the Will was three pages long. I said, "Hang up. Take a picture of each page and text them to me." He did.

Whenever I review a Will for the first time, I always look for two things. First, I confirm that the Will meets the validity requirements for a last will and testament. And second, I look at the actual words and terms used in the Will for bequests, appointments, and other ancillary provisions.

In general, it's pretty easy to make a valid will. But the trickery comes in using all of the right terms in all of the right places.

In this matter though, it took me about three seconds to determine that the Will was invalid.

In Louisiana, there are two types of Wills: olographic and notarial. The olographic will is entirely handwritten. This will was typed. The notarial testament is typically typed, but must be signed "at the end of the testament and on each other separate page." Of the three pages, only one was signed.

In addition, to be a valid notarial testament, the notary and two witnesses must sign a certain declaration that is inserted at the end of the testament. In this Will, there was no notary signature, just the signatures of two witnesses.

So, in about three seconds. I discovered two reasons that this Will is invalid. And yet, there was a third problem. For a notarial testament to be valid, the notary and witnesses must sign a declaration that is worded as described in our Louisiana statute. The declaration in the Will must be at least "substantially similar" to the declaration provided in the Louisiana statute. The declaration at the end of this purported Will was not substantially similar to the declaration provided by Louisiana law.

Since the Will was invalid, it didn't make sense to even look at the terms of the purported Will, since they would have no legal effect - at all. It's unfortunate that this man's final wishes to leave his legacy a certain way would not be followed. Instead, state law will determine who inherits his estate.

The moral of this story is that you should be careful about using the "do-it-yourself" estate planning tools that are out there. Many things can and do go wrong when you attempt to take shortcuts in the estate process.

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

Pros and Cons of Leaving Everything to Your Spouse

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.

Paul Rabalais

Louisiana Estate Planning Attorney

www.RabalaisEstatePlanning.com

Phone: (225) 329-2450

Should You Have a Will or Living Trust?

When people put their legal affairs in order, they have a decision to make. One of the questions they have to answer is, “ Should I use a Last Will and Testament (“Will”) as the legal instrument to pass along my estate to my heirs, or should I use a Revocable Living Trust (“Living Trust”)?

Let’s start with the basics. If you use a Will to pass your estate to your survivors, you’ll like have provisions leaving your estate, or parts of it, to your spouse, your children or others, or perhaps even leaving assets to a trust the terms of which are part of your Will (called a “testamentary trust”) that will be established with assets after your death.

With a “Will Plan,” you leave title to all your assets in your name: your home, your other real estate, your investments, and so forth. When you die, your assets are frozen (even though you had a Will), and your survivors must retain an attorney or attorneys to go through the court-supervised process of transferring assets to the people who are named in your Will.

If you have a Living Trust, your Living Trust will be prepared, for example, so that after you pass away, your trust provides that your estate, or parts of it, are to be transferred from your trust to your spouse, your children or others, or assets may remain in trust for the benefit of minors, irresponsible heirs, or heirs who are receiving government benefits so that they should not inherit assets in their name. When you establish your Living Trust, you will likely work with your estate attorney to transfer title of assets to your trust, such as your home, other real estate, investments, and so forth.

When you die, trust assets are not frozen. Attorneys and the court system do not have to get involved in the trust settlement because the court system only governs assets that are titled in your name when you die. In your Living Trust, you designated a Successor Trustee or Co-Trustees who will have immediate authority to transfer assets from your trust. Many people perceive it that their Living Trust replaces the Will.

So, which program should you have? It’s ultimately your decision, and some people make decisions like this based on their prior life experiences. Will clients often tell us something like, “When my mother died 12 years ago, I don’t remember her probate being too difficult. We had to do the probate to get the house in our names, but we were not in a big hurry.”

We hear from some Will clients the something like the following, “I don’t have any children so if my distant relatives and favorite charities named in my Will have to go through probate, so be it…I’ll be dead.”

Trust clients often tell us something like, “When my father died, his probate took years and it was difficult and expensive, and I don’t want my kids to go through that, so let’s set up a Living Trust.”

We’ll also hear, “My spouse and I want to make things as easy as we can on the surviving spouse when one of us passes, so let’s establish a Trust.”

Other Living Trust clients say, “If my spouse and I can establish a Living Trust and avoid the future delays and expenses of two probates (one when each of us dies), then a Living Trust seems like a no-brainer.”

And other Living Trust clients tell us, “We pre-arranged our funerals to make things as easy on our survivors and we’d like to do the same kind of pre-planning and pre-arrangements for our estate.”

Now, if you go the Living Trust route, make sure you watch my popular YouTube video titled, “If You Have a Revocable Living Trust, Watch This Now,” which address the important topic of trust funding.

Bottom line or Will vs. Living Trust? Take action. Talk to an estate attorney. Hopefully the attorney’s own biases don’t preclude you from making an informed decision. But get started. Failing to act puts the government in complete control of your estate, and who wants that?

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

Two Types of Louisiana Last Wills: Part One - The Olographic Testament

In Louisiana, there are only two forms of valid Wills (known by our Louisiana law as “testaments.” The two forms are: olographic and notarial. This post addresses the less popular olographic (some people refer to it as an “holographic” Will).

When we discuss whether a handwritten Will is valid, we must look to the terms of the Louisiana statute that defines and olographic testament. Note that there are many, many court cases where lawyers have argued, and judges have determined, whether someone’s handwritten attempt at a Will is valid, and if so, how it should be interpreted.

Nonetheless, our Louisiana law states that “An olographic testament is one entirely written, dated, and signed in the handwriting of the testator.” The statute goes on to state, in part, what it means to be dated and signed, including the fact that writings after the signature do not make the testament invalid and such writing may be considered by the court, in its discretion, as part of the testament.

Many people think that if they just meet the validity requirements of an olographic testament, then everything will go hunky-dory when they pass away. But those people should think again.

It’s easy to make a valid olographic testament, but problems often surface after the death of the testator because the wording was either insufficient, ambiguous, errors were made, reasonable contingencies were not addressed, or bequests were made outright to people when they should not have due to age or financial immaturity.

The bottom line on Louisiana olographic Wills is that it is possible, if not simple, to write your own Will that would be recognized by a Louisiana court as a valid Will. However, if the reason you attempted to write your own Will was to save some costs today, know that the future costs to your estate and your heirs (both financial and emotional costs) will far outweigh any savings you felt you realized by making your own olographic testament.

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

What Legal Matters to Address When Loved One Dies Unexpectedly

This post describes what estate legal issues typically get addressed after the unexpected death of a loved one.

Many people pass away after a long life due to natural causes, or they pass away after a prolonged illness. The death does not come as a shock or surprise to survivors, and the legal affairs are often in order with trusted loved ones having access to all of the estate information.

However, sometimes death comes completely unexpected, perhaps due to a medical issue (for example, a heart attack) or due to some type of accident. When this happens, questions often instantly arise among the survivors. Questions like:

Did he have his legal affairs in order?

Did she have a will or a trust?

How do we cover funeral expenses?

What did the deceased own and owe?

How will income taxes be handled?

What happens to all personal effects?

How do we deal with the deceased's business?

How do the monthly bills keep getting paid?

Who is responsible for dealing with all of this?

All of these questions that survivors have often lead to a statement, "We need to talk to an estate lawyer."

Perhaps the best reason to talk to an estate settlement lawyer sooner rather than later is because there is so much uncertainty that can be eliminated by talking to an estate attorney that can quickly map out a suggested plan of action to deal with the various estate issues involved.

If you are in this circumstance, make sure you quickly locate the last will and testament or trust of the deceased - the last will needs to be filed at the courthouse.

Although every estate settlement is unique, it often helps when all of the "parties" gather together for a meeting with the estate attorney. The "parties" will include the executor that is named in a will, along with all of the people who will inherit from the deceased.

These parties often have questions and they may be nervous that estate issues will be handled improperly. However, when all of the parties get together with an estate attorney who can lay out a plan for getting all matters addressed, the parties often start gaining peace of mind. When the parties know that communication will flow freely, and there will be transparency throughout the estate settlement process, heirs start to let their guard down because they know that their rights are going to be preserved. It's usually the failure to communicate, and the uncertainty from the failure to communicate, the causes heirs to lose trust in one another, and then relationships get damaged - often permanently.

Even though every estate settlement is different, most start with the family producing the last will and testament, and then the estate attorney prepares and files the necessary court pleading at the courthouse, to get the executor "confirmed." If no last will and testament exists, then the court will often appoint an "administrator" to handle the things that an executor would have handled if an executor was named in a will.

Once the executor is confirmed by a judge, or an administrator appointed by a judge, then that personal representative can gain access to information from third parties regarding estate details, and the personal representative can open an estate account and get access to the deceased's previously frozen accounts.

From there, a good estate attorney will develop a good short and long term plan for dealing with the various estate issues, and few surprises will surface during the process because a good estate settlement plan was created from the get-go.

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

Banks and Brokerage Firms: We Hardly Use Letters Testamentary These Days

After a Louisiana resident passes away, a surviving loved one often goes to the deceased's bank, credit union, or brokerage firm, in an effort to settle the estate of their loved one. The financial institution promptly responds by saying something like, "Your loved one's accounts at this financial institution are all frozen. You must bring back "Letters Testamentary" or "Letters of Administration" in order to gain access to funds.

These days, the financial institutions are asking for the wrong things. They should be requesting "Letters of Independent Executorship" or "Letters of Independent Administration."

Since 2001, Louisiana has authorized the independent administration of estates - less court supervision. Virtually all Wills written since 2001 authorize this procedure. And if a Will does not authorize it, then the heirs can agree to operate under this independent administration procedure.

After a death, when the family gets the executor confirmed, and if the executor is acting as an independent executor (which is the case in an overwhelming majority of Successions), the court does not issue "Letters Testamentary." The court issues "Letters of Independent Executorship."

So the bank requests Letters Testamentary, and then we have to tell them that we will not give them what the bank is requesting. We will give them Letters of Independent Executorship.

It would be easier on everyone if the financial institution tells the survivors of its clients and customers that they can bring in the Letters of Independent Executorship to gain access to the funds of the deceased.

To some, this may seem to be a trivial matter. But when we deal with so many confused survivors, anything the legal and financial industries can do to help those in need at a difficult time would make everyone's job easier. Just my two cents.

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