estate planning baton rouge

Estate Planning Trends

Over the last couple of decades, there has been a shift in the areas that consumers address when they engage an estate planning attorney to get and keep their estate legal program in order.

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While these are just trends - they don't apply to every family and every set of circumstances. For example, many families don't have a federal estate tax concern, but they also don't ever want or intend to qualify for Long Term Care Medicaid. Some estate planning issues are evergreen, they will be addressed regardless of the political landscape: issues like providing for minor children, providing for disable children, and providing for adults who cannot handle a lump sum inheritance the right way.

But the following are general shifts we see:

(1) Estate tax planning vs. Medicaid Eligibility planning. Few families these days need to worry about the federal estate tax. The average middle class family these days does worry about losing their home and life savings if they get sick and need long term care.

(2) The ILIT vs. the IIOT. Gone are the days where parents created an irrevocable life insurance trust in an attempt to use life insurance proceeds to pay estate tax. Here are the days where people transfer assets to a particular type of trust that enables them to retain elements of control but not lose the assets if they get sick.

(3) The $15,000 gift tax annual exclusion. Used to be, everyone and their brother would make gifts annually of $15,000 in an attempt to reduce the assets ultimately subject to the federal estate tax. Now, those gifts are useless, particularly if they are being made with some future Medicaid eligibility goal in mind.

(4) Avoid Lumping Assets in Surviving Spouse's Estate vs. The Double Step Up. Now, we want the assets of the first spouse to die to be "lumped" into the suriviving spouse's estate, for estate tax purposes. Assets in the estate of the surviving spouse get a step-up in capital gains tax when the surviving spouse dies. This "lumping" used to be a "no-no" because it cause the surviving spouse's estate to exceed the $600,000 estate tax exemption (which is now $11.4 million).

(5) Providing for a Child Predeceasing vs. Providing for a Child Divorcing. Many people now express a very clear desire that they do not want their ex-daughter-in-law, or their ex-son-in-law, ever controlling a penny of their money.

(6) Old School Will vs. New School Trust. Lawyers were taught in law school that wills and probate are the way to go. Plus, guiding a family through the intricacies and obstacles of the court-supervised probate (we call it "Succession" in Louisiana) can be easy and highly profitable work. Now, with so much information on the internet, consumers have now wised up to the concept that an estate can be set up to eliminate the court and attorney involvement of probate.

(7) Old School Probate vs. New School Trust Administration. Old School - your assets are frozen when you die, and your survivors hire lawyers to sort through the legal maze. New School - name a trusted family member as the Successor Trustee (or Co-Trustees) of your funded trust, and keep 100% of your estate in the family.

(8) Custom Will or Trust Provisions vs. Custom Beneficiary Designations. Now, many people have the majority of their financial wealth in their Individual Retirement Account (IRA). Your will or trust has nothing to do with directing where your retirement assets go when you die. With unique family circumstances, many families overlook the need to have their estate lawyers customize not only their traditional wills and trusts, but also their beneficiary designations on retirement accounts, annuities, and life insurance.

(9) Traditional vs. Blended Family. With people living longer and getting married more, the blended family estate plan can get tricky. Protections need to be in place both for the surviving spouse AND the children or heirs of the first spouse to die.

BONUS: For estate planning professionals only: Old School - the QTIP election. New School - the Portability election. This has to do with proper estate tax reporting within nine months after the first spouse dies, EVEN IF the first spouse to die's estate does not exceed the applicable estate tax exemption amount.

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

The Amendable But Irrevocable Trust

Is it possible to amend, modify, or change the provisions of an irrevocable trust?

All trusts can be classified as either revocable or irrevocable. The #1 reason people create revocable trusts is to hold title to assets in a way that you keep total control but eliminate the attorney and court-involved probate process when you pass away. Quite a bit is written about using revocable living trusts to avoid probate, so that is not the topic of this post.

Irrevocable trusts, however, are created for many different reasons: avoid taxes, lawsuit protection, and nursing home protection, just to name a few.

The word "irrevocable" scares many consumers, but it may not need to. Someone can establish an "irrevocable" trust, yet reserve the right to modify certain terms of the trust after the trust is created.

Here's an example: Parent sets up a trust. Parent is referred to as the "Settlor." In the trust instrument, it states that "X" is the trustee of the trust. It further states that "Y" and "Z" are the principal beneficiaries of the trust. The trust states that the trustee may distribute principal to the principal beneficiaries during the lifetime of the Settlor. The trust instrument further provides that when the Settlor dies, the trustee shall terminate the trust and distribute the principal to the principal beneficiaries.

Then, the trust instrument further provides that the Settlor can replace the trustee, and the trust instrument also provides that the trustee can replace the principal beneficiaries. Now you have an irrevocable trust where the Settlor has expressly reserved the right to modify certain provisions of the trust, yet there are some provisions of the trust that the Settlor cannot, under any circumstances, modify.

Fueling this concern over the inflexibility of irrevocable trusts is the fact that back in the 1990's, most irrevocable trusts were set up to avoid the 55% estate tax on assets that exceeded $600,000 in value at death. Settlors of those irrevocable trusts almost never reserved the right to modify those trust provisions for fear that the "right to modify" would cause the trust assets to revert back to the estate of the Settlor.

But since we now have an $11.4 million estate tax exemption, and portability between spouses, married couples can exempt $22.8 million in assets from the estate tax. Moving assets out of the estate to avoid estate tax just isn't a concern any more.

Now, irrevocable trusts are established for a variety of reasons: yes, tax avoidance is one. But so is lawsuit protection, nursing home protection, and many other reasons. But you need to be very careful when you are attempting to take advantage of trusts and other legal strategies to gain these protections because the slightest alterations of wording can have adverse tax, creditor protection, and Medicaid eligibility consequences.

So, in summary, an irrevocable trust does not need to be as scary as it first sounds, due to the fact that you can reserve the right to modify certain provisions, but you will want to tread carefully.

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

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

Phone: (225) 329-2450

Churches and Charities Use Estate Planning To Help More People

Next week I'll be delivering a check for more than $100,000 to a church. I just completed the probate of someone who left a percentage of the estate to the church. I know that the church is going to help many people with this bequest.

It reminds me of how, over the years, a number of churches and charities have asked me to speak to groups of members about how  the tax law is set up to give people a big tax break when they leave a portion of their estate to their church or favorite charities.

Churches and charities don't do enough of this education. I find that, when a church or charity educates its members and asks the right way, that people want to help. People would like to see their dollars help their local community more than sending those dollars off to Washington, D.C.

If you are a church or charity leader, make a commitment to education your base about the benefits of making a church or charity part of an overall estate planning program. If you exist in South Louisiana, give me a call and let's have a talk - in the right circumstances I provide that education to groups for free. But you don't have to use me - just start. You'll be helping your organization and your community.

Paul Rabalais
Phone: 866-491-3884

Louisiana Succession With Land, a Mobile Home, and Bond Mutual Funds

Working with a really nice family getting their parents' Successions completed. Met with all of the children a couple of times as we developed an efficient plan for getting everything done. The parents' had Wills essentially leaving everything to the children equally. The Wills named two of the children as the co-executor. After going through quite a bit of information and discussion, our firm will be leading them through the Succession process that will look something like this:

  1. Step One - Confirmation of independent executor. We have already prepared, and all of the heirs have already signed, the initial court paperwork to get the executor "confirmed." Since the Will was written prior to 2001, we had to get all of the heirs to sign this paperwork. As an independent executor, the executor can take certain actions without having to get a judge's approval first.
  2. Step Two - Estate account. Once the executor is confirmed by the court as the independent executor, the clerk of court will issue "Letters of Independent Executorship." The executor will then take these "Letters" to the brokerage firm and establish an estate account at the brokerage firm. The parents' brokerage account is currently frozen. But with the Letters, the brokerage firm will be required to establish an estate account and move the investments from the frozen brokerage account into the new estate account.
  3. Step Three - Managing the estate account. Expenses of the estate will be paid from the estate account. The family decided to sell the investments in the estate account so that cash will be readily available to pay expenses and ultimately, distribute to heirs. The refund check from the nursing home that is payable to "Estate of....." will be deposited into the estate account. The proceeds of the sale of the mobile home will be deposited into the estate account.
  4. Step Four - Detailed Descriptive List of Assets and Debts. Our office will prepare the required Detailed Descriptive List of Assets and Debts that the court must have before assets can be distributed to heirs.
  5. Step Five - Judgment of Possession. Our office will obtain the necessary court Judgment which orders third parties to transfer assets to the four heirs. A certified copy of this judgment will be recorded in the parish where the family owns land - this makes the heirs the new owners of the property. After expenses of the Succession are paid, the executor will distribute remaining funds in the estate account to the heirs, equally, in accordance with the Last Will of the parents.

There you have it. Often glitches appear when settling an estate and it's likely that "stuff" will pop out of the woodwork as we work on this, but wanted to give you an idea of a few of the steps that are involved in completing a Succession.

Let me know if a loved one has passed away, and the heirs want a simple and expedited process for getting all matters settled.

Brother Watches Sister Lose $500,000 to Nursing Home Expenses

I was working with a gentleman recently who came to my office to see me. He had been taking care of his elderly sister's money for the past several years after his sister became ill and needed skilled care.

Over the past several years, the brother had spent more than $500,000 of his sister's life savings on her nursing home expenses. The sister, who started with a life savings of almost three-quarters of a million dollars, was not down to about $200,000. And, the brother told me that the nursing home cost was increasing by about 10% from the previous year.  Years ago. the sister established an estate planning program for other family members. But now that most of the funds had been depleted, the estate planning program won't have much impact on her surviving family members.

We discussed a few options that exist to try to salvage some of her sister's funds: do nothing and she will spend it all; do some transfers and hope that in five years there are still some assets that have been preserved, and a few other legal strategies. But quite frankly, much more would be protected if the estate protection program would have been enacted years ago.

The silver lining behind all of this is that the brother and his wife now have started to create a program to protect the value of their home and their savings for themselves and their children.

Louisiana Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust Doesn't Avoid Estate Tax But Just Might Provide The Funds To Pay The Estate Tax

I was talking to a gentleman I've been working with for a few years. He has built a successful business in Baton Rouge and a New Orleans financial advisor is suggesting that he purchase a life insurance policy inside of an irrevocable life insurance trust (ILIT) to pay the taxes when he dies. Here's how that scenario typically works:

Example. Leon built a successful construction company. He has four children. Leon's estate is valued at $14 million. Since his estate is valued at more than $5.45 million, Leon's estate faces a significant estate tax bill when he dies. A quick calculation shows that the estate tax at this death would be about $3.5 million - more if his estate continues to appreciate before he dies. The financial advisor is suggesting that form an ILIT and have the ILIT purchase a $3.5 million life insurance policy on his life. He explains to Leon, "The policy will avoid tax because the life insurance is tax free and your children will inherit your estate." The financial advisor tells Leon that the policy will cost $56,000 per year. Leon is not sure what to do. Leon is the kind of guy that generally "doesn't like" insurance and he reluctantly asks his financial advisor for all of the reasons why he should NOT create the ILIT and purchase the insurance.

Here are a few issues that Leon and his estate will face:

  • Gifting. If Leon goes through with the plan, he will use the present interest gift tax annual exclusion to shield the $56,000 from having gift tax consequences. The ILIT will be a "Crummey" trust, which means that Leon must give his children an opportunity to take the $14,000 now, as opposed to have it used to purchase life insurance. In order to avoid gift tax consequences, the gift must be a gift of apresent interest instead of a gift of a future interest. While the "tax-free" gifting sounds like a good idea, Leon will have to make this gift/insurance payment every year, so Leon may never be able to give his children money again without gift tax consequences. Some parents like give money to their kids during the parent's lifetime, so the parent can see the children enjoy the gift.
  • Life Insurance Policy. In years past, many life insurance policies have "expired" because the insured lived too long, and the policy ran out of cash value to pay for the insurance. In the early years, Leon will be making $56,000 annual premium payments but the insurance cost will not be that much. As Leon ages, the annual insurance cost (if he lives long enough) will be more than $56,000 so there is a risk that Leon will have to pay more than $56,000 annually to maintain the policy, even if he has no more gifting limits to make those payments.
  • Tax Not Reduced. Some people who create ILITs do so because they want to avoid tax. But creating an ILIT does not reduce your estate tax. The tax will still exist but if the insurance pays out at your death, there will be funds in the trust that can be used to pay the tax and your children will inherit your estate.
  • Is $2.6 million for each child enough? If Leon dies with a $14 million estate, and his estate owes $3.5 million in estate tax, then there will be $10.5 million in assets remaining, and his children will each inherit about $2.6 million. Perhaps Leon feels that $2.6 million for each child is enough - heck, Leon never received an inheritance so why should he spend $56k per year so that his children might inherit more than $2.6 million each.

So, Leon's got some decisions to make. Hopefully Leon will have the kind of advisors who are able to show him all the reasons for and against certain actions so that when Leon decides to move forward with the planning, he does so fully informed and feeling confident that he did what was best for his family.