Louisiana Inheritance

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.

What Happens If I Set Up a Trust For My 30 Year Old Child - and Then My Child Dies?

I was working with a couple from Lake Charles, Louisiana, on their estate planning legal program. For estate tax avoidance purposes, they wanted to set up a trust for their 30 year old child, who lives in Baton Rouge. Assets in this trust will not be part of the couple's estate when they die.

Their 30 year old child was not responsible with money, but he was getting more mature by the years. But the parents did not just want to dump a big sum of money in their child's lap - for him to blow. They decided that the trust should stay in effect until their son is 55 years old, at which time he can have the trust assets put into his own name. When we were discussing other terms of this irrevocable trust, they asked me a question.: "Paul, what if our son happens to die unexpectedly while this trust is in existence for him?"

I told them, "It depends. Does your son have children?" Why did I ask them if their son had children? Because the Louisiana Trust Code provides guidance on your right to re-direct the trust assets of the trust if the beneficiary dies prior to the termination of the trust.

The couple told me that their son did not presently have children, but that he had a serious girlfriend and would likely get married in the next couple of children.

So, I told them, "If your son dies while this Louisiana Trust is in existence for him, and he does not have children (or grandchildren), then you can determine where the trust assets go if he dies before he turns 55 years old. The couple indicated to me that if their son dies with no children, the couple would then want the trust to be for the benefit of four nieces and nephews they had.

But then I said, "If your son dies while this trust is in existence for him, and he DOES have descendants, then his interest in the trust will be in his estate and will be for his heirs. Although you do have the authority to shift the trust principal to one or more of his descendants, under these circumstances where he dies with descendants.

I verified all of this by double-checking the relevant provisions of the Louisiana Trust Code, in this case it was Title 9, Section 1973, which was revised by the Louisiana legislature in 2016.

If all of this sounds confusing, don't be alarmed. It is confusing. So if you want to set up a Louisiana estate planning legal program so that what you own goes to your family, the right way, the first time, and protected from government interference, then you may want to call our estate planning law firm at 866-491-3884 and ask to set up a time to start a conversation about how to leave your estate to 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.

Louisiana Family Establishes Estate Legal Program for Two Children and Grandchildren

I was working with a Baton Rouge family recently who wanted to set up an estate legal program the right way for their family. Their goals were to make things simple for the surviving spouse; designate both of their children to work together, while staying out of the Louisiana probate, after both spouses died; and making sure that the money they left their grandchildren would be used for the right reasons.

So, we are establishing their revocable living trust so that the surviving spouse is the sole trustee after one spouse dies and is in complete control of everything (no Louisiana Succession or Probate); their two children will be the Successor Co-Trustees after both parents die, and since there will be no probate, the children could sell the home immediately after the parents pass; and third, instead of dumping $100,000 or so into each grandchild's lap when the grandparents die (encouraging even more bad habits from the grandchildren), the grandchildren's parents (who are very responsible) will serve as the trustee of the trust for the grandchildren. The parents will have total discretion regarding what the funds are used for, and the grandchildren's parents will transfer the inherited funds to the grandchildren when the grandchildren show the maturity and financial responsibility to be able to handle this kind of money the right way.

How To Keep A Child From Blowing A Large Inheritance

I was working with a Lafayette, Louisiana couple recently. They had one child - a daughter. The couple had worked hard to build a business together while they were working. They were successful - build an estate that consisted of millions of dollars of net worth.

They acknowledged to me that they had spoiled their daughter and enabled her to get used to a lifestyle that was "spend now - worry about paying for it later." They feared that if they had an estate planning program that dumped these millions into the daughter's lap, that it would all be gone six months later.

The couple has three grandchildren from this daughter and the couple is really worried about the future well-being of these grandchildren. They were looking for guidance from me on how they should leave their estate to their family. I knew I did not want to tell them what to do - I wanted to give them options and put them in a position where they could make the best informed decisions for their family.

We discussed all of their options. Here's what they came up with. After couple both pass away, they will leave half of their estate for the benefit of their daughter, and half of their estate for the benefit of their three grandchildren. And they were specific about how they were leaving their estate to their descendants.

  1. Amount for daughter. The daughter will not get her inheritance in a lump sum. She will get an annual distribution for each of the five years after the couple is gone. Then, she will receive the remainder of her share in five year intervals. This will prevent the daughter from blowing her inheritance all at once.
  2. Amount for grandchildren. After the couple dies, the amount for the grandchildren will be held in trust. A trusted professional will serve as the trustee, spending the money as needed for the education and well-being of the grandchildren. The grandchildren will get their inheritance in stages until the last distribution at age 50.
  3. Revocable Living Trust. The couple does not want their to be court proceedings when each of them dies, so we are setting up their estate in a revocable living trust so the typical delays and costs associated with probate are avoided when they die.

The decision of what to do with this couple's estate had been bothering them for quite some time. Now they know that their daughter will not be able to blow her inheritance, and they know that they have provided that their grandchildren's education will be paid for, and their grandchildren will be able to get a much-needed head start financially on their lives. They were also pleased to know that, indirectly, they were also providing for their future great-grandchildren that do not yet exist.

 

Completing a Succession When a Child Is Already a Co-Owner of Property?

     Hey, I was working with a family recently, the parents had both recently passed away and the four children were getting together and they retained us to handle all the succession, or probate, matters. They had a question about a particular piece of property that their parents had owned.

     During the parent’s lifetime, the parents had donated a 10% share in that property to one of the children. Now that the parents have died, and all the parent’s assets are going to the children equally, the children were asking me who ends up with this piece of property? Well, as you might imagine, the child who owned the 10% will continue to own the 10% and then the parents 90% would wind up being transferred equally to the four children. If you do the math, the child with the 10% would continue with the 10% and each of four children would inherit 22.5%, which is one-fourth of the parents 90%. The child that already had 10% winds up with 32.5% of the property and the other three children each own 22.5%.

     You might figure how does that work because it is a house. How can you own a 22.5% interest in a house? Well, people can have an undivided interest, which means that each child, at least those three, own a 22.5% undivided interest in the whole house.  There is not particular tracks or rooms for each child. Each child has an undivided interest in the whole home. I

     If you have a situation like that and you want to get it all straight, feel free to reach out to us and we can have a conversation together.

6 Critical Estate Planning Concepts: How To Make Your Child's Inheritance Divorce-Proof

I was working with a couple from St. Tammany Parish. They had only one child. It appeared to this couple that their child would likely get married in the next few months or years. The couple was not particularly fond of their potential daughter-in-law, but like they told me, "We don't get to select who our son marries!"

The couple had worked very hard to save up their estate. They wanted to pass it along to their son - AND THEIR SON ONLY. They feared leaving their estate to their son one day in the future, and then the daughter-in-law divorces the son and takes half of the inheritance along with her. They owned a home and another piece of property. They owned publicly traded stock, and they owned a considerable amount of cash, in the form of checking accounts, savings accounts, money market accounts, and certificates of deposit.

Here are a few things you should know if you want to keep your children's inheritance in the family and avoid losing it to your children's past, present, and future divorces.

  1. Inheritance is Separate Property. At the moment that a child (or anyone) inherits, that inheritance is the separate property of the person inheriting. So, if parents leave Son $1 million, then that $1 million initially is the separate property of Son's - not community property of Son and Daughter-in-Law.
  2. Income From Separate Property. Income produced by the separate property of a spouse is community property. So, if that $1 million that Son inherited produces $200,000 of income (interest and dividends) over a several year period, then that income that Son's separate property produced is community property owned by both Son and Daughter-in-Law.
  3. Commingling of Community and Separate Property. If community property and separate property get mixed up together so that you can't distinguish the separate property from the community property, then it all becomes community due to our presumption that anything a married couple has is community property.
  4. Declaration of Paraphernality. Son may sign a particular type of Declaration reserving that the fruits and revenues (income) of his separate property IS his separate property. Assuming he executes this document timely and accurately, then the $200,000 of income that his inheritance produced (See #2, above) would be his separate property. There would be no commingling of inheritance and income from inheritance, so the separate property status of all of it would be preserved.
  5. Leaving an Inheritance To Your Ex-Inlaw. Let's say your son is divorced from the mother of your son's three minor children. Your son predeceases you. It is likely that the inheritance that your son would have received would go to your son's children (your grandchildren). But guess who controls it? Yep, you've just put all of your hard earned wealth into the hands of your deceased son's ex-wife, because the courts will put her in charge of your minor grandchildren's inheritance, causing you to "roll over in your grave." Proper estate planning, done right the first time, with the right estate planning attorney, can avoid these problems.
  6. Leave It To "The Son Trust." For parents who want their children to have an extra layer of protection, they will set up their estate planning legal program in a manner that when the parents die, the child's inheritance will be placed into a trust for the child. Done correctly, this may prevent the child from being "influenced" by the child's spouse to do something inappropriate with the inheritance, and it may even provide that when the child later dies, any remaining inheritance in the child's trust will pass along to the child's children - and not the child's spouse or ex-spouse.