Protect Surviving Spouse

We're a Blended Family. We Don't Want Each Other's Kids Breathing Down our Necks When One of Us Dies

Estate planning for blended families has become the norm. It is common, these days, for a husband and wife to each have children from prior marriages or relationships. But couples with blended families who fail to put the right estate legal program in order is a recipe for disaster.

For prospective law firm clients who want to schedule a free 15 minute initial phone call with Paul Rabalais, go to: https://go.oncehub.com/Paul8

The conversation to me goes something like this, "Mr. Rabalais, we each have our own children. Right now, everything is ok...everybody gets along well. But I wasn't born yesterday. I know that when one of us dies, if we don't have our estate legal matters buttoned up just right, the kids of the first spouse to die will pounce on the surviving spouse like white on rice in an attempt to preserve their inheritance."

Louisiana law that applies in these circumstances is cumbersome at best. When a spouse is a blended family dies without a legal plan in place, the children of the deceased spouse can force the surviving spouse to purchase and post a bond that will protect the children's inheritance. And that's just for starters.

There are several components of the "intestate usufruct" that couples don't like: (1) the surviving spouse can't sell real estate or stock without the "permission" of the children of the first spouse to die. (2) If the surviving spouse is forced to spend assets over which she has usufruct, she still owes a debt to children of the 1st spouse to die for the full value of the usufruct. And (3) if the surviving spouse is not the parent of the children of the 1st spouse to die, the children of the 1st spouse to die can force the surviving spouse to post a bond to protect the interests of the children of the 1st spouse to die. These issues often wreck what was a delicate relationship to begin with.

There are number of legal strategies you can take advantage of in order for couples who are in a "blended family situation" to protect each other, but also protect the interests of the children.

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

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

Medicaid Income Rules When You Have a Community Spouse and an Institutionalized Spouse

Any way you look at it, long term care services are expensive. And when you have a married couple with one spouse residing in the nursing home while the other spouse is healthy enough to reside in their residence, it gets tough because on top of the several thousand dollar nursing home bill, the couple is also spending thousands monthly to maintain the residence. In these circumstances, couples spend hundreds of thousands of dollars over several years.

Many couples, particularly those who do not plan ahead, are forced to consume their assets (also called "Countable Resources"). This post is not about spending or protecting the assets, but this post is about how the monthly income of the couple gets handled.

Here's an example. Let's say that each spouse is receiving $2,000 of monthly income (social security and pensions are common forms of monthly income, but there are others).

Louisiana Long Term Care Medicaid rules provide that ownership of income is determined without regard to community property laws. For Medicaid purposes, a spouse has full ownership of income paid in his name.

In determining how much of the income the couple can keep. Medicaid rules provide that the income of the community spouse is never to be considered in determining eligibility for an institutionalized spouse. Keep in mind that the spouse residing in the nursing home institution is called the "institutionalized spouse," while the spouse still living in the community is called the "community spouse." The community spouse always gets to keep all of the community spouse's income.

In order to determine the institutionalized spouse's patient liability, we must start with that spouse's gross monthly income ($2,000 in our example) and subtract their personal needs allowance ($38). Then, we subtract the Community Spouse's Maintenance Needs Allowance.

The Community Spouse's Maintenance Needs Allowance is calculated by subtracting the community spouse's income ($2,000) from the Community Spouse's Maintenance Needs Standard ($3,160.50 for the first half of 2019 - it gets adjusted twice each year). Thus the Community Spouse's Maintenance Needs Allowance totals $1,160.50.

So, $2,000 minus $38 minus $1,160.50 equals $801.50. This is the institutionalized spouse's patient liability. The concept here is that the community spouse always gets to keep all of the community spouse's income. But if the community spouse's income is less than the applicable Maintenance Needs Standard, then the community spouse gets to keep enough of the institutionalized spouse's income to get the community spouse up to a total of monthly income that equals the Maintenance Needs Standard.

Keep in mind here that these are Louisiana rules and your state's rules may differ. Also note that this calculation is not made, nor is it relevant, if the patient is denied Medicaid due to too many countable resources or for some other disqualifying reason.

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

Designating Your Spouse versus a Trust for your Spouse as Beneficiary of your IRA

A common estate planning principle communicated by spouses who have children from prior marriages and relationships is, “If I predecease my spouse, I want my assets to be available for my surviving spouse’s needs, but when my surviving spouse dies, I want my assets to revert back to MY children.”

This can get complicated when the estate consists of Traditional IRAs, as many estates do. Let’s take the example of a Husband and Wife who each have two children. When H dies, his IRA is worth $1,000,000. In the year after Husband dies, Wife is 80 years old.  

When it comes to income tax planning and IRAs, most recommend to keep the IRA balance as large as possible, allowing an IRA owner to earn investment income on deferred income taxes. 

In this post we will discuss two strategies: (1) Naming the surviving spouse as the designated beneficiary of Husband’s IRA; and (2) Naming a trust (for the benefit of the spouse) as the beneficiary of Husband’s IRA. 

When a surviving spouse is the designated beneficiary of an IRA, the surviving spouse’s ability to roll over inherited benefits to her own IRA gives her a powerful tax-deferring option, not available to any other IRA beneficiaries. If the surviving spouse holds the IRA as an owner, her Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) are determined using the Uniform Lifetime Table under which her Applicable Distribution Period (ADP) is the joint life expectancy of the surviving spouse and a hypothetical 10-years-younger beneficiary. If she withdraws only the RMDs under the Uniform Lifetime Table, the IRA is guaranteed to outlive the surviving spouse. And it’s likely that the IRA will be worth more in the surviving spouse’s late 80’s than it was when she inherited it at age 80. 

Let’s look at some numbers. Since Wife can use the Uniform Lifetime Table, her first required distribution the year after Husband dies (assuming a $1,000,000 IRA value) is $53,500 (5.35% of the IRA value). The next year her RMD is 5.59%. And the next year, 5.85%. If the investment performance of the IRA exceeds these distribution percentages, and she only takes the RMDs, the IRA will grow.  

The downside, however, is that since Wife is treated as the owner of the IRA, Wife can name whoever she wants as the beneficiary of beneficiaries of her IRA. She could exclude Husband’s children by naming Wife’s children, or perhaps even Wife’s new spouse that she married after Husband died! 

So instead of naming Wife as the designated beneficiary of Husband’s IRA, Husband considers naming a trust for Wife as beneficiary. The trust instrument might provide that RMDs go to Wife for her lifetime, but when Wife subsequently dies, trust assets revert back to Husband’s children. But since a trust was named as the beneficiary of Husband’s IRA, even if the trust qualifies as a “see-through” trust, RMDs after Husband dies will be based on the single life expectancy of the surviving spouse (Wife) which results in substantially less income tax deferral than would be available if the surviving spouse were named as the outright beneficiary and rolled over the benefits into her own IRA. 

Let’s look back at the numbers. If a trust for Wife is named as beneficiary of Husband’s IRA, the first RMD when Wife is 80 (based on the same $1,000,000 IRA) will be $98,000 (9.8% of the IRA value). At age 81, the RMD will exceed 10% of the account value. And each year, the percentage will increase. If Wife lives long enough after Husband dies, the RMDs based on the required single life expectancy table will cause most of the benefits to be distributed to Wife outright which will defeat the purpose of trying to protect those IRA assets for Husband’s children. 

So keep in mind that there are tradeoffs when it comes to naming beneficiaries of IRAs.

How Traditional, Simple Louisiana Estate Planning Can Wipe Out The Savings

This is my attempt to educate a few Louisiana folks on the front end about estate planning so they don't get bit on the back end.

Traditional estate just doesn't always work like it used to. It's typical and traditional for married couples, at some point, to go see a lawyer about getting a Will done. Then, the attorney prepares a Will that, typically, either leaves OWNERSHIP or USUFRUCT to the surviving spouse. In fact, most couples don't know what they did - they just know they wrote a Will.

Well, one of the biggest drains of an estate while you are alive can be long term care expenses. I hope that this enables you to realize that how you arrange your estate planning legal documentation can have a profound impact on what you leave your family and what you leave what some people call the Evil Empire of the State of Louisiana.

Let's take an example. Let's say that Dad died. Dad had saved over the years enough to accumulate some CDs. His CDs, when he died, totaled $500,000 in value. And let's say Dad's traditional Will either left Mom ownership or usufruct of the $500,000.

Now that Dad died, Mom cannot live alone. She needs around the clock care. So Mom goes into the nursing home. The children think that the $500,000 is PROTECTED, because Dad left it to the kids but left Mom only the usufruct. But of course they are all quickly informed that Mom must spend the entire $500,000 on her nursing home care before Mom would qualify for Louisiana Long Term Care Medicaid. 

Of course this is when Mom and all the kids say, "Well we did not know!" Or they say, "Nobody told us....". Or they say, ""This doesn't seem fair when 3 out of 4 people in the nursing home are on Medicaid..." Or, "Surely there is something we can do at the last minute here..." Or, "Can't we just hide the money in a hole in the back yard?" Or, "Daddy just wanted to take care of Momma..."

Here's the key: Plan for these situations in advance. What Dad and Mom are getting legal affairs in order, it makes perfect sense to have an intelligent discussion about how they should leave things to each other and the family in a way that the family does not lose it to long term care expenses, taxes, or other government intrusions.

Hopefully this little piece of education can help some unknowing families get ahead of the game and protect what they've worked for. In the past, only the wealthy could afford to pay lawyers and other professionals to get the best estate protection advice. Now, with the advent of youtube and other free social media networks, anyone who wants to education themselves can find out just about anything on the internet and then seek out the right help to protect themselves and their family.

Paul Rabalais
Louisiana Estate Planning Attorney
www.RabalaisEstatePlanning.com

What To Expect - The 1st Conversation With Estate Attorney

The planning and strategy conversation that you have with your estate planning attorney may be the most important conversation you ever have. Too many lawyers like to hear themselves talk. But if the lawyer is doing most of the talking, then it is impossible for the lawyer to customize an estate legal program that covers, in necessary depth, all of the needs of the client. I like to say that God gave us attorneys two ears and one mouth, so we should be listening to clients twice as much as we should be speaking.

Initially, the conversation should start out with an attorney finding out what you most want to accomplish about the transition of what you've worked for from one generation to the next. No two people or couples are alike. But it's the attorney's role to find out what is REALLY most important to you and then dig a little deeper with the right questions so that all of your emotional needs regarding you and your family can be met.

Note that all of this should be done in layman's terms. The best attorneys are the ones who ask the right questions and LISTEN, and then respond with another appropriate question. 

Finally, after some time, the attorney should be able to repeat what your biggest concerns are and how those might be addressed with a customized estate legal program. If the attorney did their job, you will think that what he or she concluded was dead-on (no pun intended) with what you want for yourself and your loved ones. Even though nothing's been prepared or executed, you should have peace of mind that you are underway in having the perfect estate planning program designed.

Then, it's just a matter of implementation.

Paul Rabalais
Louisiana Estate Planning Attorney
www.RabalaisEstatePlanning.com

Difference Between Pre-Nup and Will or Trust

I was working with a couple recently. Each spouse had children from a previous marriage, and they wanted to make sure their estates were set up the right way to protect themselves, their spouse, and their children - the right way. They knew there was the potential for conflict when they die because the sets of children did not know each other very well, and we all know what happens when people who do not know each other well have to share an inheritance!

The couple had a pre-nup from before they got married about 20 years earlier. Note that pre-nup can also be referred to as "Marriage Contract," or "Separate Property Agreement." They also had old Wills. Some of the provisions of the Wills were in conflict with what the pre-nup stated.

This led me to want to educate you about the difference between the two. In general, the purpose of the pre-nup is to determine who owns what. In the typical pre-nup when spouses get married later in life, and they each have their own children, the spouses will want to deviate from the presumed community property regime, and they will want to keep everything as separate property - what the husband has and what the husband earns during the marriage is HIS, and what the wife has and what the wife earns during the marriage is HERS. So it is real clear who owns what when one of them dies (or, if they get divorced) - no community property. The pre-nup is not the place to say who gets what when you die. In Louisiana, each party is represented by a separate attorney, each party signs the pre-nup, and it is typically recorded at the courthouse. It's a contract.

The Last Will, or the Revocable Trust, dictates who gets what when you die, and who is in charge of the administration and distribution. The WIll or Trust is not the place to try to control what is separate and what is community. Sure, your assets may retain their community or separate property status when placed in a trust, but the WIll or Trust should merely be used as a vehicle to dispose what you own, not declare what you own with your spouse.

Too many times we see conflict between the provisions of the Marriage Contract and the Last Will or Trust. You are asking for trouble if that is the case. Make sure you understand the role of each so that there will be a simple and quick estate administration when you die, with everyone (and the lawyers) being clear on everyone's rights.

Estate Planning When You No Longer Communicate With Child

I was working with a surviving wife who lost her husband a couple of years ago. The husband never took any time to put any kind of estate legal program in place. The husband had no communication with a child that he had from a previous marriage.

After her husband died, the wife told me she wanted to sell her home and relocate. I told her she would have to get her former step-son's written permission to be the independent administrator of her husband's Succession. She said, "That ain't gonna happen. He is not going to agree to anything unless i give him money."

We talked about how, as the Administrator of her husband's Succession, she would have to go through a lengthy process to, first, be appointed as the Administrator, and then even more lengthy, do the newspaper advertising and other judicially approved  things that will be necessary to sell the house. She realized it would be months, if not years, before she could sell the house and relocate.

All this could have been made much simpler if, prior to his death, the husband would have engaged in some meaningful estate planning to make settling his estate easier for his wife and other children. Now she is faced with this former step-son controlling many of her future moves.

Take action. Your loved ones will thank you for it.

Paul Rabalais
www.RabalaisEstatePlanning.com
Law offices: All over south Louisiana
Phone: 866-491-3884

If You Have Usufruct, You Have Debt

This post should help you understand the full consequences of either leaving someone the Louisiana usufruct of an estate, or inheriting the usufruct of an estate.

Here's an example. Dad dies leaving a Last Will which left the usufruct of his estate to Mom. Together, Mom and Dad had about $1 million in the bank (checking, savings, and a number of CDs). About a year later, after Dad's Succession was complete, all of these bank accounts were put in Mom's name only - which the usufructuary is permitted to do. Family circumstances warranted that Mom change her Will. Mom died a couple of years after that.

All of Mom's heirs assumed that since all of the money was in Mom's name, and that Mom left a Last Will and Testament, that all of the money would go to them. But there were dead wrong - pun intended.

Since Dad left Mom the usufruct of his estate, Mom (or Mom's estate) owed a debt to Dad's heirs (also called a usufructuary accounting due to the naked owners). Dad had left Mom the usufruct of about $500,000. That "usufructuary debt to Dad's naked owners" needed to be satisfied first before any of Mom's heirs inherit a penny.

And if Mom had spent some of the money and only had enough at her death to satisfy the usufructuary debt, then Mom's heirs would not inherit - even though she had a very clear Will leaving her money to her heirs.

While usufruct can be appropriate in some circumstances, you and your spouse need to be aware - on the front end - about what might happen on the back end. While usufruct might be the way to go, there are a number of other alternative ways you can leave your estate to your loved ones. To start a discussion, call our office at 866-491-3884.

Go TIgers!

Louisiana Usufruct and Long Term Care (Nursing Home) Medicaid

We get lots of questions about whether people who own the Louisiana usufruct can qualify for Louisiana Long Term Care Medicaid benefits.

So I'm sharing information today with you from the Louisiana Medicaid Eligibility Manual regarding usufruct and Medicaid.

When someone who owns a usufruct is in a nursing home and attempting to qualify for Medicaid, the first thing you want to determine is whether their usufruct is over a consumable or a nonconsumable. 

If the person owns a usufruct of a consumable, such as money, certificates of deposit, promissory notes, bank accounts, etc., then the entire amount of the asset's value is a Countable Resource. So, if Dad died leaving Mom the usufruct of a bank account that had $200,000 in it when Dad died, then the entire amount is considered a resource of Mom. Some people mistakenly believe that since there are naked owners (typically, the children), that Mom does not have to consume these assets in the nursing home.

If the usufructuary owns the usufruct of a nonconsumable item, such as land, houses, shares of stock, etc., then the value of the usufructuary's usufruct must be determined by a Medicaid table that factors in the usufructuary's age. So, for example, if Dad died and left Mom the usufruct of a piece of land worth $100,000, and Mom is 80 at the time of her Medicaid application, then the table indicates that Mom's usufruct is worth 43.659% of the asset. So, by Mom owning the usufruct of a piece of land worth $100,000, she has a Countable Resource valued at $43,659. This is a problem for Mom. Perhaps she will need to sell her usufruct for this amount and then consume all of that money before successfully qualifying for Medicaid.

The problem here is that there is little that can be done at the last minute to solve this problem. But there's lots that can be done if you act early (ideally, at least five years before entering the nursing home. 

Find this helpful, go LIke our law firm's facebook page at Rabalais Estate Planning, LLC, and discover lots more.

Seven Common Uses For Trusts

People often mistakenly believe that trusts are for rich people. But you're about to find out that the trusts are used these days by all classes of people, and in some scenarios, trusts can benefit the middle class more than they can benefit the wealthy.

The following are seven common reasons people in Louisiana use trusts:

(1) Avoid Probate. Probably the most common reason nationwide why people use trusts. When you die with assets in your name, whether you have a last will or not, your assets are frozen. Your executor and your heirs will hire attorneys who will guide the family through the government-supervised probate (also called "Succession") process. Most people believe that this proceeding is too burdensome, costly, time-consuming, and just an overall pain in the behind. In some cases, it tears families apart. You can establish your revocable living trust and name trustees and beneficiaries of your trust, re-title assets into your trust while you are alive, so that when you die, your trustee disburses your trust assets to your beneficiaries, all outside of the government and legal system interference.

(2)  Avoid Nursing Home Poverty. The biggest threat to many people's life savings these days is not taxes or probate, but long term care expenses. With people living longer, if you own assets and need long term skilled care, you will be forced to pay for all of your own care out of your own savings until you have less than $2,000 remaining. If you work with the right people and set things up the right way, at the right time, and you get it right the first time, then you can protect your home and life savings from a forced spend-down in the event you need long term care in the future.

(3) Protect Irresponsible Heirs. Many people we work with want to leave an inheritance to their children or grandchildren, but they fear or they know that leaving a lump sum to certain individuals will enable them to squander the inheritance and spend it on the wrong things. You can establish a trust so that when you die, the inheritance for the financially immature heir can be doled out to him or her over time, or perhaps provide for a monthly stipend, or provide that someone else would have the discretion to determine when the heir is financially responsible enough to handle an inheritance. 

(4) Blended Family Situation. The biggest worry about blended families and estate planning is that when the first spouse dies, the worry is that all of the assets will go the surviving spouse. And then when the surviving spouse dies, all assets will go to the surviving spouse's children. The children of the first spouse to die won't get a penny. If you are a spouse in a blended family situation, you can establish a trust so that when you die, your assets are available for your spouse, but when your surviving spouse later dies, remaining trust assets go back to your children. This helps blended families protect assets for the right people.

(5)  Special Needs Trust. If you leave assets outright to someone who is getting government benefits, then the inheritance you leave them may get them kicked off of their benefits. By leaving the inheritance to what is commonly referred to as a "Special Needs Trust," you can arrange things in a way so that your heir continues to receive the valuable benefits, but also benefits from the inheritance that you left them the right way in a trust.

(6) Minors. Don't ever leave anything outright to a minor. When you leave life insurance or part of an estate to a minor, then that inheritance, while the child is a minor, must be directly supervised by a judge, and a judge must approve every expenditure of the inheritance on behalf of the minor, and then when the child turns 18, the remainder of the inheritance gets dumped in the child's lap. You can set up a trust so that you name a trusted friend or relative, or perhaps a company, to be the "Trustee" of a trust for the benefit of your minor child or grandchild. This will further make sure that what you leave to the minor is used for the right reasons outside of government interference, and is doled out the right way as the minor gradually turns into an adult.

(7) Avoid Taxes. Some people set up trusts to avoid taxes. The wealthy often establish trusts to move money from their "taxable estate" to an arrangement whereby assets are "out of the estate." It is important to note, however, that this estate tax affects only a small number of families. When an individual dies with an estate of less than $5.5 million, the estate is not required to file a federal estate tax return. Married couples can double the amount they can protect.

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.

Handling a Louisiana Succession When Surviving Wife is Bequeathed Usufruct

I was working with a family over the last few years. The surviving wife called me after he husband died about two years ago. She wanted to get his "estate settled." She said he had a Last Will and Testament leaving her everything.

Ownership or Usufruct?

When she came in and showed me the Will, I realized that he had not left her "ownership" of everything, rather, he left her "usufruct", a form of ownership recognized only in Louisiana.
The husband left two daughters, and I told the surviving wife that we would have to get her two step-daughters involved in the Succession since they were the "naked owners" and needed to be part of the settling of her husband's estate.

Well, two years later after the daughters and their husbands prolonged court proceedings because they demanded accountings of all of bank accounts, CDs, investment accounts, IRAs, annuities, and Savings Bonds, the relationships are now strained and the surviving wife is now saying, "How can I make sure that MY CHILDREN don't have to go through all of this when I die?"

Easier Access When Wife Passes Away

So, we're setting things up now so that when she dies, her children will immediately inherit from her, and her husband's children will immediately get what they are entitled to from their father's Louisiana Succession. Certain things will be held in trust so there will be easy and immediate access to heirs when she dies, without having to go through the complexities, delays, and costs of probate.

If you live in Louisiana, whether in Baton Rouge or New Orleans or Monroe or Lake Charles or Shreveport, and you want to make your estate settlement easy, give us a call at 866-491-3884, and we'll start a discussion about how easy it is to get all of this straight.

Shreveport Gentleman Asks Great Question About Leaving Home For Wife

I was working with a Shreveport couple recently helping them set up their estate legal program. One of their three children lived in Shreveport. Another lived in Monroe. The youngest lived in Alexandria, Louisiana. All three of their children were married and some of those spouse exercised a lot of influence over their spouse.

The husband asked a question that we get quite often. It goes something like this, "How can I make sure that when I die, if my wife wants to sell our home, that she does not have to get the permission of our children to sell the home?

Well, the most popular ways to do this are as follows:

  1. Will Home Outright to Wife. The husband can have a Last Will and Testament and bequeath the Shreveport home outright to his wife. After he dies, the wife will have to complete the husband's Succession/Probate with any of the other heirs before she would be permitted to sell the home.
  2. Will Usufruct of Home With Authority To Dispose. This one can be tricky. The husband can write a Last Will leaving the usufruct of the Shreveport home to his wife. But that is not enough for her to freely be able to sell it after he dies. In the husband's Last Will, he will name the naked owners of the home, but he must provide (this is where it gets a little complicated) that the naked ownership interests are held in trust with the surviving wife as the trustee. It also helps if in his bequest of usufruct, he also grants her the "authority to dispose of nonconsumables." A Louisiana Succession will still be necessary after he dies to remove the property from the Husband's name.
  3. Put Home In Trust. He can put his home in a trust and designate that his surviving wife is the trustee of the trust after he dies. This may be the simplest way accomplish the husband's wishes. After the husband dies, a Louisiana Succession is not necessary to re-title property in trust. The home will simply remain in the trust after the husband dies, and the wife will immediately be able to sell the home without having to seek the permission of any of the children.

Whether you live in Shreveport, Monroe, Alexandria, Lake Charles, Lafayette, or any other Louisiana town or city. you can arrange your estate legal program so that your spouse will not have difficulty after you die if your surviving spouse wants to sell the home or other property. When a surviving spouse is forced to get the permission of all of the children (and indirectly that often means the spouses of the children chime in) it can often create irreparable family conflict which never improves.

Give our Louisiana statewide telephone number (866-491-3884) a call if this makes sense to you and you'd like your estate to be handled the easy and right way when you die. I look forward to the opportunity to have a conversation with you about your estate planning goals and how we might be able to help you accomplish them.

Paul Rabalais