Estate Attorney Baton Rouge

What does Avoid Probate mean?

What does avoid probate mean?

To understand what avoid probate means, you have to understand what probate is.

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Some basics: Probate, in general, is the court-supervised process of transferring assets in the name of a deceased person to the heirs. In Louisiana, probate is referred to as "a Succession." But because there are different laws, rules, and regulations that apply to different types of assets you might own, I'd like to use an example.

Let's say that Alan and Alice Peterson own five assets:

(1) A bank account;

(2) An individual retirement account (IRA);

(3) A brokerage account;

(4) A vehicle; and

(5) A home.

One die, Alan dies. Alice goes to the bank where they tell her that she still has access to their bank joint bank account. Alan goes to their brokerage firm where she is told that as the designated beneficiary on Alan's IRA, she can produce a death certificate (when she gets it) and the financial institution will transfer Alan's IRA into an IRA in Alice's name. So far, Alice is on a roll.

But when Alice inquires about their joint brokerage account, the brokerage firm tells Alice that the account is frozen, and that Alice and her family must hire an attorney to get the appropriate court orders in order to gain access to the brokerage account funds.

Then Alice discovers from the Office of Motor Vehicles that she cannot sell or otherwise transact the car until she produces the appropriate court order ordering the Office of Motor Vehicles to take Alan's name off the vehicle title.

Then, when Alice starts to inquire about selling the home, she discovers that she can't sell the home until she "completes Alan's Succession," which will clear up the title to the home.

So, even if Alan had a last will and testament, it's the fact that he had assets titled in his name when he died that required his survivors to hire lawyers to complete this court-supervised procedure, even though Alan's IRA "avoided probate."

So Alice and the kids hire a lawyer, spend a few grand or more, take several months or more, to complete the court proceeding and all that goes along with settling Alan's estate.

Years later, Alice dies, also owning five assets. Even though Alice may have had a last will and testament naming an executor, and naming her children as her sole heirs. The kids must now "lawyer up" and go through the court proceeding in order to get Alice's bank funds and brokerage account, and to sell Alice's vehicle and home.

Some people want their survivors to "avoid probate," which means they want to arrange their affairs in a manner so that their survivors will have immediate access to assets, without their survivors having to have assets frozen while survivors hire lawyers and wait on the judicial system to oversee the settling of the estate.

So perhaps Alan and Alice would have, in order to avoid probate, established the "Alan and Alice Peterson Revocable Living Trust." They would have transferred their "probate assets" to their trust, such as their home and brokerage account, while they would have kept the IRA out of the trust since IRA law permits IRA owners to designate beneficiaries of their IRA accounts.

Then when Alan died, Alice, as the trustee of their trust, could sell the home and access the trust brokerage account, without having to go through probate. Things in a trust do not have to "go through probate" when you die. Only certain assets titled in your name require a probate (or in Louisiana, "a Succession") when you die.

After both Alan AND Alice die, then the Successor Trustee so designated by Alan and Alice in the trust instrument, would have immediate access to sell trust assets (like the home, if appropriate), and disburse trust assets to the principal beneficiaries of the trust, without having the traditional attorney and court involvement that is required when you die with assets in your name and a Succession is required.

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

Phone: (225) 329-2450

Nine Elements of a Louisiana "Avoid Probate" Estate Legal Program

Many seniors in Louisiana express a desire that their family and loved ones avoid the court-supervised probate process when they die. Because every family is unique and each person or couple owns different types of assets, it's important that they have a foundation for their Program. The following is a description of nine different elements of the Louisiana "Avoid Probate" Estate Legal Program.

(1) Revocable Living Trust. Their Revocable Living Trust ("RLT") is the foundation of their program. This is the customized legal instrument where you state who is in charge of your trust when become incapable or when you die, who will inherit or receive distributions from your trust after you die, and it will also state the rights and obligations of all of the parties that are involved. Your RLT really replaces the traditional "Last Will and Testament." The disposition of your trust assets are controlled by your trust instrument, not your Last Will and Testament.

(2) Pour-Over Last Will and Testament. If you happen to own any assets in your name when you die, and the title of which becomes frozen when you die because they are in your name, your Pour-Over Will is necessary. The executor of the WIll, after your death, will hire an attorney and go through the court-supervised Succession procedure to have those assets in your name transferred to your trust. Note that many people who set up an "Avoid Probate" Legal Program never need to utilize the Last Will because all assets will be titled in a way making the Succession unnecessary. "Funding" your trust (or re-titling your assets) is a critical step in the process so that nothing is left in your name when you die that would require a judicial proceeding.

(3) Durable Power of Attorney. This can also be referred to as Financial Power of Attorney, General Power of Attorney, or POA. An example of when this may be needed is when you are incapacitated and there is an IRA in your name and you are unable to transact the IRA due to your incapacity. Your POA should enable your "Agent" to act on your behalf at the financial institution where the IRA is held.

(4) Health Care Power of Attorney. Also called a Medicaid Power of Attorney or Health Care Proxy. This will enable your trusted family member or friend ("Agent") to talk to doctors and access your medical records in the event you are unable to do this yourself.

(5) Living Will Declarations. This is the legal instrument where you make your wishes known regardling life support machines. People who execute Living Wills typically want to relieve their family from the burden of making an end of life decision by putting their wishes on paper, in advance.

(6) Asset Transfers. All of your funding and re-titling documents should be organized in the Asset Transfers portion of your Estate Legal Program. This is where transfers of real estate, investments, and business interests are documented.

(7) Burial and Funeral Wishes. Part of completing your Estate Legal Program may involve informal documentation of your wishes regarding certain aspects of your passing, such as your burial and funeral wishes. 

(8) Distribution of Personal Effects. Some people provide for the distribution of their non-titled personal effects (jewelry, furniture, guns, etc.) in their formal legal documents. Others take a simpler approach and make an informal list of how they want their personal effects disbursed. Check with your attorney regarding the best way to provide for the distribution of your personal effects.

(9) Trustee Education. Since the establishing of an estate legal program may be new to you, your attorney should provide both you and your Successor Trustee(s) with education and instructions as to how to best serve as a Trustee of Co-Trustee. 

While every client is different, with different needs, this should give you a pretty good example of what the typical estate planning program consists of. Now go take care of business!

Paul Rabalais
Law Offices: All over South Louisiana
Phone: 866-491-3884