Independent Executor

Deceased Owned Property in Many Parishes: How To Transfer To Heirs in a Succession

This post describes how the real estate of a deceased person, who owned property in multiple Louisiana parishes, gets transferred the right way to the heirs.

We recently started working on a Succession. The deceased lived in Jefferson parish but owned property in several different parishes. He didn't own property in Jefferson Parish, but he owned property in St. Tammany, Tangipahoa, Plaquemines, and St. Landry Parishes. The daughter, who was named the executor of her father's Will, thought she was going to have to travel all around the state to register the children as the new owner of all of their father's property.

I explained the procedure for getting the property transferred as follows:

(1) Succession Opened. The proceeding to open a Succession after someone dies must be brought in the district court of the parish where the deceased was domiciled at the time of his death. In this matter, the deceased was domiciled in Jefferson Parish, even though he did not own a home or other real estate in Jefferson Parish. All court pleadings, petitions, Lists of Assets and Debts, court orders, and all other court documents of the Succession will be filed in the Jefferson Parish Succession Suit record.

(2) Judgment of Possession. At the conclusion of the Succession, the district court judge in Jefferson Parish will sign a court order that we prepare called a Judgment of Possession. We will ensure that all of the various legal descriptions of all of the deceased's different properties around the state are listed on this Judgment of Possession.

(2) Certified Copies of JOP. Once signed, we will request that the clerk of court of Jefferson Parish issue multiple certified copies of this Judgment of Possession (JOP).

(3) Record JOP in Parishes. We will record a certified copy of the JOP in the conveyance records in each parish where the deceased owned real estate. This will show all third parties and title examiners that ownership has been transferred from the deceased to the heirs (or, since there was a Last Will, to the legatees (children)).

In this matter, the deceased also owned real estate in Mississippi. I told the family that the Louisiana Succession would not transfer the Mississippi property. The family must hire another law firm in Mississippi to go through the ancillary probate in Mississippi to transfer the Mississippi property from the deceased to the heirs.

Many people who have property in multiple states transfer those multiple properties to one Living Trust so that no probate proceedings are necessary after the death of the Trust Maker.

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

How To Get an Executor of a Succession Confirmed

The purpose of this post is to walk you through the detailed steps of getting an executor of a Louisiana Succession confirmed. Once confirmed by the court, the executor can then access accounts of the decedent, sell Succession assets, and have other powers that enable the executor to start the process of settling an estate.

Just being named as an executor in a Will does not give the named executor the authority to act. They must first go through the process of getting confirmed by a court. The following are the steps to getting an executor confirmed:

(1) Must have the original last will and testament - the one that was actually signed. The will names the executor.

(2) A petition to probate the Will and ask the judge to confirm the executor.

(3) The executor will sign a Verification of the above-mentioned Petition.

(4) Two people who knew the deceased will each sign an Affidavit of Death, Domicile, and Heirship. This proves to a judge that the deceased died and that he had a Will and whether the deceased had forced heirs.

(5) The executor signs an Oath that they will faithfully perform their duties as executor.

(6) We will prepare and file and submit the court order that we want the judge to sign confirming that the executor has been confirmed.

(7) We will prepare Letters of Independent Executorship. The clerk of court will make several certified copies. The executor needs certified copies of these Letters to move frozen financial accounts into an estate account.

(8) We have the named executor sign an Application for Tax ID Number. This number is necessary so that the executor can open an estate account.

So we file all the court pleadings and we wait - often a few weeks - for the court pleadings to be processed. We get it back and get certified copies of the Letters to the newly confirmed executor. And we are off and running.

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

The Louisiana Independent Executor

In 2001, Louisiana law first authorized the independent administration of a Succession. Prior to that time, any act that an executor or administrator took in the administration of a Succession was required to be approved by a judge. If the executor wanted to pay a utility bill, it must have been approved by a judge. If an administrator wanted to sell the clunker vehicle for $500, it had to be approved by a judge in advance of the sale. If an executor wanted to sell the home of a deceased person, a burdensome amount of legal advertising and judicial approval was required to sell the home. It made the administration of a Succession very difficult, time-consuming, and expensive.

Now, Louisiana allows executors to be "independent executors." And Louisiana law allows administrators of an intestate Succession to be "independent administrators." So what does that mean?

An independent executor and independent administrator can take certain actions without having to get pre-approval by a judge. The independent administration does not by any means eliminate the Succession, but the independent administrator or independent executor can pay bills, sell Succession assets, and take other certain specific actions without having to get a judge to approve the action in advance. The inventory or sworn detailed descriptive list is still required. Accountings are required (unless waived), and a judge is still required to order the transfer of assets.

How does one become an independent executor? One of two ways. Either the Will authorizes it expressly. Or, if the Will does not authorize it, the heirs all sign off on an Agreement to allow the executor to be independent.

How does an Administrator become an Independent Administrator. Well, all of the heirs who will inherit under state law must sign an Agreement to allow the court-appointed Administrator to be an Independent Administrator.

Note that if you are involved in a Succession in Louisiana and the executor or administrator is not independent, it is highly likely that one or more parties are being uncooperative, and the Succession will last a long time and be a significant burden on all parties involved.

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.

Gaining Access To Funds Payable To An Estate

I've been working with a family in order to gain access to funds that were payable to "Estate of Dad."

Dad died leaving a last will and testament. He named his two children as the co-executors and the equal heirs. Dad only left two assets in his name, a retirement account and a bank account. There were no designated beneficiaries named on the retirement account, and the bank froze the bank account that was in Dad's name only. The family could not gain access to any of these funds.

The steps one must go through to get access to these funds are as follows:

(1) Co-Executors Confirmed. We will prepare the necessary court pleadings to get the two children confirmed as the Independent Co-Executors. This paperwork, along with the signed original of Dad's last will gets filed at the parish courthouse. The pleadings make their way to a judge's office, and, if approved, the judge signs the court order confirming the children as the Independent Co-Executors. Then, the clerk of court will issue "Letters of Independent Co-Executorship,"

(2) Open Estate Account. The children must use these "Letters of Independent Co-Executorship" to open an estate account at a financial institution. The institution holding the retirement account funds, and the bank where the frozen account is held, will issue checks payable to "Estate of Dad." The co-executors will then deposit these checks into the Estate account.

So, in this matter, the simplest way to get access to Estate funds was to open the Succession, get the Executors confirmed, open an estate account, and then deposit estate funds in the estate account.

Sure , there is more to a Succession, such as preparing and filing the Detailed Descriptive List of Assets and Liabilities, and Petitioning for the Judgment of Possession, but it's these first steps that allows families access to funds payable to an Estate.

Sell or Distribute Assets When Someone Dies?

When someone dies with assets, whether those assets are in trust or not, the people in charge must make a decision to either sell (liquidate) the assets, or distribute them in their same form to those left behind.

When someone with a living trust dies, the Successor Trustee is typically heavily involved in that decision. If it is appropriate to sell assets, then the Successor Trustee will sell those assets, the proceeds of the sale will be payable to the Trust, and the Successor Trustee will deposit those funds into a trust account for subsequent disbursement to the beneficiaries of the trust. Trustees will sometimes sell real estate (a home, for example) that the survivors have no use for. Successor Trustees may also sell mutual funds or other investments and disburse those to beneficiaries.

On the other hand, sometimes it makes sense for the Successor Trustee to simply distribute the assets to the beneficiaries in the same form. Occasionally, a family has an emotional attachment to stock that a parent owned, and the beneficiaries will receive the stock in their own name.

Sometimes the family will want to continue owning real estate owned by the deceased (or the deceased's living trust). The Successor Trustee, immediately after the death of the Settlor, can transfer the real estate to the beneficiaries, outside of probate, so that each beneficiary owns an undivided interest in the real estate. It's also not uncommon, if the real estate was not owned in a limited liability company, for the beneficiaries to form an LLC and put their undivided interest in the property into the LLC. This could limit their liability exposure. Each beneficiary would then own a membership interest in the LLC.

So there are lots of decisions, each with tax consequences, that must be made when someone with a trust dies. Note that if there was not living trust, then the executor of the Last Will has similar decisions to make, but the actions of the executor are under the scrutiny of the judge that is assigned to oversee the Succession judicial proceeding. It's generally easier to administer a trust after a Settlor dies than it is to administer a Louisiana Succession which requires extra judicial processes and supervision. 

Paul Rabalais
Louisiana Estate Planning Attorney
paul@rabalaisestateplanning.com
Office phone: 866-491-3884

Louisiana Succession Law Allows Detailed Descriptive List To Be Sealed

There is a new Louisiana Succession law in place for 2017 that allows families to seal the Detailed Descriptive List of Assets and Liabilities, which has always been open for anyone in the public to see.

Until recently, as part of every Louisiana probate, the family was required to hire attorneys to, among other things, prepare a detailed listing of all assets and debts. This is referred to as the "Detailed Descriptive List."

Since all Probate documents are public record, this list of assets was available for anyone to see, including excluded family members, identity thieves, and others.

Now, a participant in the court proceeding can request that the Detailed Desciptive List be sealed in the court record. Even when sealed, a copy must be provided to the surviving spouse and certain heirs. 

While this step can keep family financial information somewhat private, it does not eliminate the cost and the delays already involved in the Louisiana Succession/Probate process.  Many families use trusts to keep family information private, while avoidng the costs and delays of the Louisiana Succession.

Paul Rabalais
866-491-3884

What Are the Steps Involved in a Louisiana Probate?

It's always a tough question for me to answer when someone asks, "What are the steps involved in a Louisiana probate?"

Every probate in Louisiana is different, based on the procedure and the complexity and the assets and debts that are involved.  The way a probate evolves can vary based on the parties that are involved and the relationships of those parties. The probate can vary based on whether a last will and testament exists, and, if so, the relevant terms of the last will and testament. So, again, there is going to be a probate "no matter what" if assets are in the name of the person who died, but the Will or lack of a Will often dictates the direction that the probate must take.

The following is a "typical" scenario that we see in many Louisiana Successions, but realize that your particular situation can be very different. 

(1) Hire Attorney and Develop a Plan. This is where all of the parties retain an attorney to guide the family through the court proceeding. It's a good idea at this point to have an initial plan that gets communicated to everyone regarding all of the steps that are necessary to complete the Louisiana probate.

(2) Get the Executor Confirmed. Court petitions get prepared and executed whereby the executor petitions a court to "probate the Will" and confirm the executor. The term "probate" is often misused. Most people prefer to use the term "probate" as the entire court-supervised proceeding from start to finish. But technically, when a judge "probates" a Will, the judge is confirming that the Will is a valid will under Louisiana law. Nonetheless, a judge typically signs a court order after this confirming the executor's status, and then the court order is processed so that the clerk of court of the proper parish issues "Letters of Independent Executorship," which lets banks, title examiners, and other third parties know that the executor may now act on behalf of the estate.


(3) Estate Account(s). Now that the executor has the authority to act on behalf of the estate - because he or she has been confirmed by the court as the executor (or, in many cases referred to as the "independent executor"), the executor may open an estate account or multiple estate accounts so that funds and other investments and financial accounts can be collected into the estate account.

(4) Accountings. The executor, the family, the participants, and the attorneys work together to prepare a Detailed List of Assets and Debts that the deceased has when he or she died. In addition, the executor may be required to have the attorneys prepare an accounting showing the court and heirs how the executor handled estate funds after the death of the deceased.

(5) Judgment of Possession. Once the estate has been administered and all of the above has been accomplished, the attorney will prepare a final petition to the court ( all of the heirs must sign off on this), requesting that the proper judge sign a court order (referred to as a "Judgment of Possession"), whereby the judge orders the executor and third parties to disburse assets to the heirs in the proper proportions, after all taxes, costs, and other administrative expenses have been paid.

(6) Distribution. Once the judge signs this Judgment, there is a process whereby each asset must be transferred to disbursed to the heirs. Copies of these Judgements are often filed in the real estate records of the parish where the deceased owned real estate - this is what conveys ownership of the real estate to the heirs. 

Again, the emphasis here that needs to be made is that each Louisiana probate is different, and even the best of plans that are made at the beginning often change due to the fact that new information gets discovered, or relationships turn sour, during the course of this court-supervised probate process. 

Also know that by planning ahead the right way with an estate legal program, you can arrange your legal affairs so that your family and heirs can completely avoid having to go through this.

What is "The Court?", an Executor Asks?

I was talking to a colleague recently. He is the executor of his father's probate/Succession. His father had died years ago and there was still an account in the father's name that needed to be accessed and distributed to the children.

So the executor took it upon himself to gather up some paperwork (a copy of the Will and a death certificate), and he trucked on down to the place that had his father's account.

As I knew he would, he quickly ran into a dead end. He was told, "In order to access these funds, we need legal documents certified by the court within the last 90 days." 

He got frustrated because he did not know what "the court" meant. Should he go to the Supreme Court, should he go to the Clerk of Court? Should he just walk into a courthouse downtown? He was given no direction as to where or what "the court" was.

He spend two long days going to 12 different offices before he finally got what he needed. He was told that he needed certified "Letters Testamentary." But that was the wrong instructions. Letters Testamentary pretty much went away 15 years ago. Really what he needed were copies of the "Letters of Independent Executorship," certified by the parish clerk of court within the previous 90 days. 

The Louisiana Succession procedure is typically frustrating to the lay person, particularly when they try to do things themselves or even when they try to make sense of the archaic and inefficient probate rules.

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.

Gretna, Louisiana Estate Planning Audience Worried About Losing Assets To Nursing Home Expenses

Gave an estate planning presentation to a great group of folks in Gretna today. When each of the individuals walked in, I asked them what they were hoping to learn during the presentation. The responses were all very similar, although each response was based on a particular background or family experience. Some of the responses were as follows:

  • Husband has dementia. One woman stated that her husband has dementia and she was worried that she would have to put him in the nursing home in the future, which would cause them to lose their life savings, and ultimately, lose their home. She said most of their net worth was in their home and she was hoping to be able to leave the home to their children.
  • Couple Wants to Avoid Leaving It to the Government. Another Gretna couple said our information is exactly what they were looking for. They have worked hard and had saved. They want to see their hard-earned estate go to their children instead of to the government or the nursing home. They said that one of their two children was an attorney - I told them that I would not hold that against them. :)
  • Couple owns rental real estate. One couple owns several doubles in Jefferson Parish. The husband, in his late 60's, had seen other family members deplete their estate due to nursing home costs. They were concerned about protecting their property and their savings for their one child. We discussed the capital gains tax problems associated with donating the properties to their son right now.
  • Husband Died Two Years Ago. One woman in attendance lost her husband two years ago and had not started on his Succession. She is getting to a point where she can't manage the home and is considering selling it and moving into something smaller. There are family issues that may make completing the probate difficult, if not impossible. Perhaps we can help her.
  • Future Executor Worried. One gentleman said he was named as the executor of his elderly parent's Will, but prior to attending my presentation, thought he would be able to go to the bank and brokerage firm after his parent dies with the Will and get immediate access to funds for immediate distribution to his many siblings. Now he is a little worried because the sibling relationships are less than rosey, and he anticipates many problems when his parent dies and he tries to fulfill his duties as executor.

All in all, it was a great crowd in Gretna today. All were worried about the various potential interferences that could mess up their trying to leave their estate to their children. I look forward to the opportunity to work with many of these folks and help them establish a Louisiana estate planning program out of our Metairie office so that they can pursue their senior years without worry that there will be difficult estate issues when they die.

If you live in Louisiana, and would like to discuss how an estate legal program might help your family protect 100% of your estate, give us a call at 866-491-3884, and let's set up a time to chat about how easy it is to get your estate legal affairs in order.

 

Own a Business and Owe Estate Tax? Pay the Estate Tax in Installments: Section 6166 Election

Several of our estate planning clients own businesses in Louisiana (or elsewhere). Some of these business owners have an estate that will require estate tax to be paid when they die. Many business owners are told that "half of their estate will go to the government when they die" so they must take drastic action today to somehow reduce that tax.

What many people don't know is that there are breaks in our Internal Revenue Code which permits certain estates to pay the estate tax liability over a period of 14 years - if they qualify for it because they own a closely held business.

Generally speaking, if a business owner dies and the value of his ownership interest in his or her business exceeds 35% of his adjusted gross estate, then the executor is allowed a 14 year period to pay estate tax attributable to an estate's interest in a closely held business. The estate may pay interest only payments for the first four years, and the taxes can then be paid over a 10 year period.

Here's an example that would not occur in real life but it shows how this election can help an estate. Let's say that Fred owns Fred's construction company. This is the only asset in Fred's estate. The business is worth $10.45 million. Fred is told by some that half of his estate will go to the government when he dies. This concerns Fred because there is not $5.225 million in liquidity in his estate to pay this tax and Fred worries that his children will lose the business.

But the Fred realizes that his estate could make a Section 6166 election timely after Fred dies. First, the estate tax must be calculated. Since there is a $5.45 million exemption, and a 40% estate tax on the balance, Fred figures there would be $2 million in tax - still a big worry to Fred. But if his estate makes the timely IRS Section 6166 election after he dies, his estate can pay interest only payments of $40,000 for four years after Fred dies, and then his estate can $200,000 annually for another 10 years. Fred now realizes that his business will produce enough revenue annually to pay this tax over the 14 year period, and his children will not lose the business due to estate tax liabilities.

If you are a business owner in Louisiana, whether your business is in Baton Rouge, Lafayette, New Orleans, Lake Charles, Shreveport, or Monroe, and you want to make sure that your estate passes intact to your family or other heirs, you may want to give my office a call at 866-491-3884, and tell our great staff that you own a valuable business and you want to speak to me to find out how to leave it the right way, I look forward to the opportunity to speak with you about how the IRS Section 6166 election for owners of closely held businesses can help your family, or how other little-known tax elections can help your family.

How To Complete the Probate of a $1 Million Louisiana Estate

I've handled many Louisiana Successions over the last 25 years. Every one is different and there can be many different ways to "skin the cat." But I want to give you an overview of what typically is involved when a "typical" one million dollar estate is being probated in Louisiana.

First, some terminology - Probate or Succession. When someone dies with assets in their name in the United States, it is up to our government (the judicial system) to see to it that those assets are managed properly and then ultimately transferred to the rightful heirs after all applicable delays and court costs, attorney fees and other administrative expenses have been taken care of. The fact that the government must oversee this is the topic of another discussion.

All other states, except Louisiana, call this court-supervised process "Probate." In Louisiana, it is also commonly referred to as a "Succession." For purposes of this discussion, I will call this procedure in Louisiana - "Probate."

So let's look at an example. Dad died years ago leaving everything to Mom. Now, Mom just passed away three weeks ago. Mom lived in Louisiana when she died. Mom had previously signed a Last Will and Testament ("Will") leaving her entire estate equally to her three children. She named her oldest child ("Sonny") as the executor of her Will. When Mom died, she owned a home worth $300,000, bank accounts valued at $100,000, CDs valued at $200,000, an IRA valued at $150,000, a separate stock account valued at $100,000, an annuity valued at $50,000, US Savings Bonds valued at $50,000, a vehicle valued at $20,000, and other personal effects valued at $30,000. Mom also had a few debts. Mom has two credit cards (each with a $5,000 balance). There are ongoing insurance and maintenance expenses associated with the house. Mom's daughter, Sissy, paid the $10,000 funeral expense out of her own pocket.

So, here are the typical steps involved in settling this million dollar estate.

  1. Attorney For The Children. Generally, each child must have an attorney since all of the children are participants in this court proceeding. For purposes of this situation, let's assume that all of the children are represented by the same attorney. All communications with the attorney will be with all of the children present. There is no conflict between any of the children. If there is any conflict among the children, then different children will have different attorneys and the proceeding will likely move much slower through the court system - in fact, many contested probates never wind up getting fully resolved.
  2. IRA and Annuity. Let's assume that Mom designated her three children as the equal designated beneficiaries on the IRA and the annuity with the particular financial institutions. If so, then the three children can apply directly to these financial institutions to get their benefits. We'll talk taxes later, but the beneficiaries will include distributions they receive from Mom's IRA as taxable income, and they will also have to pay income tax on the gain that was recognized inside of Mom's annuity.
  3. Get Sonny Confirmed as Independent Executor. Court pleadings will be prepared, signed, and filed at the courthouse to open the Probate and to petition to be confirmed as the Independent Executor. Let's assume Mom's Will not only designated Sonny as the executor, but she authorized him to act as an Independent Executor. It is critical that Sonny be confirmed as the Independent Executor so that he can start to gain access to Mom's accounts, pay bills on behalf of the estate, and perhaps sell estate assets that need to be sold. When the judge signs this first court order, the clerk of court will issue certified copies of the "Letters of Independent Executorship."
  4. Open Estate Account. Once Sonny receives the court-issued Letters of Independent Executorship, he will go to a bank and open an Estate Account. Sonny cannot open an estate account until he has these "Letters."  Let's assume he opens the Estate Account at the same bank that Mom used. The bank will open the Estate Account and they will transfer Mom's frozen bank account funds and her frozen CD funds into the estate account. There will be no penalty for early surrender of the CDs when the bank transfers the funds out of Mom's CDs into the Estate Account.
  5. Detailed Descriptive List of Assets and Liabilities. The family provides information to the attorney regarding the specifics of Mom's assets and debts when she died. The court requires that a detailed listing of all assets and debts be filed into the court record before a judge can authorize a distribution of estate assets to the heirs.
  6. Separate Stock Account. The children talked and decided that since they have no emotional attachment to the stock that Mom owned, it would be best to sell the stock and divide the proceeds of the sale among the children. Sonny, armed with his Letters of Independent Executorship giving him authorization to sell estate assets, sells the stock. The check from the sale is made out to: Estate of Mom. Sonny deposits this check into the Estate Account at the bank.
  7. Mom's Home. Since all three children have their own homes, the children agree that it would be best to sell the home. The children quickly clean out the house and Sonny, as the Independent Executor, gets with a realtor to list the home for sale. Two months later, they find a buyer to buy the house from the estate. Sonny attends the closing. The check for $300,000 produced at the house closing is payable to "Estate of Mom." Sonny deposits these funds into the estate account.  There is no tax on the sale of the house because, even though Mom and Dad purchased the home years ago for $120,000, the children will enjoy the "step-up in basis" at Mom's death. Since the new basis is the value of the home at Mom's death, and since there is no better way to determine fair market value than what a willing buyer and willing seller agree to shortly after death, it is fair to say that the basis was the sales price ($300,000). So, there was no capital gains tax to be paid upon the sale of the home.
  8. U.S. Savings Bonds. When Mom died, she owned 87 U.S. Savings Bondsthat were valued at $50,000 when Mom died. Mom had originally paid $33,000 for these savings bonds. The children decide to keep things simple by selling all of the bonds. Sonny goes through the process of selling all of the bonds, as the Independent Executor, and depositing those proceeds into the Estate Account. Income tax will have to be paid on the difference between what the US Savings Bonds were sold for ($33,000) and what they were sold for ($50,000). This taxable gain is $17,000.
  9. Mom's Vehicle. The children decide to sell Mom's old Lincoln. Sonny sells the vehicle. The check is payable to Estate of Mom. Check deposited in Estate Account.
  10. Personal Effects. The children get together at Mom's home shortly after Mom died and, informally, agreed on how Mom's personal effects are to be divided. Perhaps Mom may have even communicated to the children, or made an informal list of instructions, regarding her personal effects. Since these personal effects are not "titled," like an account or a piece of property is, the children are satisfied with their own personal division of personal effects. The attorney does not have to get involved in this aspect of settling the probate.
  11. Paying Estate Bills. Sonny will use the funds in the Estate Account to reimburse Sissy for the funeral expenses she incurred, and Sonny will also use the Estate Account to pay off Mom's credit cards, and to pay house maintenance expenses of the home from the time Mom died until the house is sold. Sonny may very well be required to prepare and file a final income tax return for Mom, which will be due April 15 of the year after Mom died.
  12. Executor Fee. As executor, Sonny is entitled to an executor's fee of 2.5% of the Succession Assets. Sonny does the math and concludes that he is entitled to an executor's fee of $25,000. Sonny has a decision to make: Does he collect the $25,000 executor's fee from the estate (he will pay income tax on this amount because he is being compensated for the services he rendered). Or does he waive some or all of the fee and allow the three children to simply inherit the estate assets one-third each without income tax consequences.
  13. Estate Tax. No federal estate tax is due because the value of Mom's estate is less than the applicable estate tax exemption of $5.45 million. No Louisiana Inheritance Tax is due because Louisiana no longer has an inheritance tax. We discussed above income tax consequences to the children's receipt of the annuity and IRA and US Savings Bonds.
  14. Judgment of Possession. Finally, a judge signs a Judgment of Possession which may close the estate and order that all remaining estate assets be transferred to the three children equally. Sonny, as executor, may want to hold back a sum of money just in case bills come in after all of the funds would have been otherwise distributed.

There you have it. While every Louisiana Succession or Probate is different, this is just one example of things that occur during the legal proceedings related to settling a $1 million dollar probate. Actually, the procedure would be the same whether the estate was worth $200,000 or $4,000,000.

If you have lost a family member, and you want to work with an attorney who will help your family get through all of this quickly and easily while keeping the family relationships intact, give us a call at 866-491-3884 to start a discussion about handling the Louisiana Succession.

A Situation Where Life Insurance DOES Go Through Probate

Example. Kirk and Lisa wanted to make their estate settlement simple for each other and for their three children. Knowing that assets in a revocable trust avoid probate, they created a trust and transferred their stock, home, LLCs into their trust. Kirk and Lisa "heard" that life insurance avoid probate because it's paid to the beneficiary. Kirk died. The insurance company immediately tells Lisa that the insurance company needs a probate court order. Why?

Many years ago, insurance agents would sell life insurance to a married couple. Because the insurance agent believed there would be some estate tax savings, the insurance agent wrote the insurance applications in a way that the husband would "own" the life insurance policy on the life of the wife, and the wife would "own" the policy on the life of the husband.

So, when Kirk died, it was determined that Kirk "owned" the policy on Lisa's life. When Lisa dies, the death benefit will be payable to Kirk (or Kirk's estate). In either case, Kirk's probate is necessary to collect the death benefit when Lisa dies. In addition, if the policy that Kirk owns has cash value, Lisa will not be able to access this cash value into the policy ownership gets transferred in a court proceeding.

Had they transferred their life insurance policy to their trust during Kirk's lifetime, the probate would not have been necessary. After Kirk died, Lisa, as the sole trustee, would be able to access cash value or change the beneficiary. But since they "assumed" that life insurance avoided probate, they ended up being required to complete Kirk's probate to "fix" the life insurance problem, even though all of their remaining assets avoided probate.

What is an Executor or Administrator of a Louisiana Succession: 7 Questions and Answers

What is an executor?

An executor is the person named in someone's Last Will and Testament whose job it is to work with the court system to have the assets of a deceased person transferred to their heirs.

Example. Pete wrote a Will leaving his entire estate to his three children. In Pete's Will, he named his oldest child, James, as the executor his Will. When Pete dies, it's James' job to hire an attorney and oversee the Succession or Probate court proceeding to make sure that Pete's estate gets managed correctly and that, ultimately, Pete's three children inherit Pete's estate at the conclusion of the Succession proceedings.

What is an administrator of an estate?

Sometimes people die without ever having written a Will, and a Succession is necessary to transfer the assets that are in their names, to their heirs. Often, the proper Louisiana court will appoint an Administrator to manage the assets of someone who died without a Will. The Administrator's job will also be to follow all of the court rules and see to it that the assets of the deceased ultimately get transferred to the heirs. When someone dies without a Will, state law dictate who inherits, so the Administrator must work with those people throughout the Succession court proceedings.

Example. Seymour died without a Will. Seymour had three children, but one of his children predeceased Seymour. Seymour's predeceased child had five children. After Seymour dies, one of the grandchildren quickly hires an attorney and petitions the court to appoint her as the Administrator of Seymour's Succession. The court appoints the 19 year old grandchild to be the Administrator of Seymour's Succession. The grandchild then will gain access to all of her grandfather's assets while she works with attorneys and the rest of the heirs to manage the estate and ultimately, have a judge order that assets be transferred to the heirs that state law provide that the estate must be transferred to.

What is the difference between an Executor and an Administrator?

Actually, the roles are similar. When someone dies with a Will, the person who wrote the Will named an executor, and the executor must work with heirs and attorneys to manage the estate as it goes through the court process. When someone dies without a Will, then obviously, an executor of a Will was not named, so the proper court must appoint an Administrator to manage the estate under similar rules that an executor would manage an estate.

What is an Independent Executor?

If the Will stated that the executor may act as an "independent executor," then the executor will be permitted to take certain actions that are involved in completing a Succession without having to get a judge's approval in advance.

Example. Jeff's Will stated, "I appoint my daughter, Margaret, as executor of my Will. My executor may act as an independent executor." If Margaret were simply an executor - and not an independent executor - she would need to formally petition a judge to get express written permission from a judge to sell Jeff's house, stock, car, or even his personal items, after Jeff died. This can be a real nuisance and a financial burden when Margaret tries to settle Jeff's estate. But since Margaret is an independent executor, a Succession is still required, but Margaret can take certain actions (like selling estate assets) without first having to petition the court to take that action.

Virtually every Will written in Louisiana these days should authorize the executor to act as an independent executor. If a Will written in Louisiana does not have these express provisions authorizing the executor to serve as an independent executor, then either:

  • the Will was written prior to 2001 when the "Independent Executor" position was created by state law; or
  • the attorney who prepared the Will is shamelessly ill-informed.

What if the Will does not authorize the executor to be independent?

There's hope. If the Louisiana Will does not authorize the executor to be an independent executor, then, generally speaking, all of the heirs can sign an Agreement authorizing the executor to serve as an independent executor. But it must be unanimous. A few other details exist that must be complied with but your Succession Attorney can help you verify whether the Succession you are working with can operate under the independent administration rules.

What is an independent administrator?

If the person who died had no Will, then the court will appoint an Administrator of the Succession. An Administrator must get every action approved by the judge. However, if all of the heirs sign an Agreement allowing the Administrator to be an Independent Administrator, then the administrator can act under the simpler "independent administrator" court proceedings. Every court-appointed Administrator should seek to be appointed as an Independent Administrator.

Does having an Independent Executor avoid probate?

No. Even if there is an independent executor or an independent administrator involved in a Succession, the Succession is still required. There must be court proceedings to get the independent executor or administrator appointed or confirmed. The assets, liabilities, and estate expenses must be documented and valued, the heirs must sign off on the plan for distribution, and accountings are necessary. Judges will still need to get involved to sign various court orders, and court orders will have to be distributed to various heirs, financial institutions and other third parties to "un-freeze" the estate assets to have them managed and ultimately distributed to the heirs.

Who Should Sell The Home: The Executor or the Heirs?

We've been dealing with a probate matter In East Baton Rouge Parish for a few months now. Dad died. Dad owned a home, some bank accounts, some investments, and a vehicle - pretty normal stuff. Accounts were frozen immediately when Dad. Dad had a Last Will and Testament naming Daughter as the independent executor. The Will leaves Dad's estate to eight different heirs.

Dad's house now needs to be sold. People are asking me what's the easiest way to get Dad's house sold. I told them that they have two options:

  1. Keep the estate open and have the one Independent Executor sell the home on behalf of the estate. When the Independent Executor sells the house, the check will be payable to "Estate of Dad," and Daughter, as Independent Executor, will deposit the check into an Estate account that she establishes. Then, we prepare the necessary accounting and get the proper court judgments to allow those estate funds to be disbursed to the eight different heirs in the proper proportions.
  2. Close out the estate, get the final judgment transferring the house to the eight heirs, and then having the eight heirs list and sell the house. This process settles the estate quicker and transfers Dad's assets to his heirs, but all of the eight heirs, as the new co-owners o the home, will have to participate and sign off on the listing of the home, the negotiation, and all eight heirs will have to participate in the closing of the home when those documents are prepared and need to be executed.

In this instance, it was a pretty obvious choice. The decision made, and the one we are moving forward on, is to keep the estate open, have the independent executor sell the home by herself, and then go through the process in a few months (or perhaps even years - depends on how long it takes to complete the sale) go through the final probate process of preparing the necessary accountings for the court, and petitioning the judge to sign off on the final court orders so that the executor and the financial institutions are ordered to release remaining funds to the heirs in the proper proportions.