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Estate Planning

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Common Questions About Estate Planning in Louisiana

After helping many locals with their estate planning needs through Ladouceur Law Firm, we have taken the initiative to compile and answer frequent questions about this topic and its process. Please note that the following details about estate planning in Louisiana, are only meant to be taken as general information. The knowledge below does not apply to all situations or your specific circumstances, and does not constitute legal advice. 

How Much Property Can One Leave to Their Loved Ones Without Paying Federal Estate Tax?

You may leave $12,060,000 (The year 2022 amount) of property to your heirs without paying federal estate tax. This exclusion is indexed for inflation each year. However, it is scheduled to be reduced by about half on January 1, 2026, unless the higher exclusion is extended. 

How Can One Avoid Wasting the Federal Exclusion?

Effective for persons who died after 2010, the unused exclusion is portable from your “last deceased spouse.” To illustrate, Husband 1 dies with a taxable estate of $3.49 million at a time when the exclusion was $5.49 million. His unused exclusion of $2 million may be allocated to his Wife so that she has a $7.49 million exclusion.  

If the Wife marries Husband 2, who dies with a taxable estate of $4.49 million, her exclusion is then only $6.49 million (Her own $5.49 million plus the unused exclusion from Husband 2 of $1 million). The greater unused exclusion from Husband 1 will be lost if unused because the unused exclusion of the last deceased spouse now becomes the amount available.  

Now assume that the Wife dies before Husband 2 with a taxable estate of $3.49 million; her unused exclusion of $4 million ($7.49 million less $3.49 million) may be allocated to Husband 2. 

The Executor of the estate must prepare an estate tax return in order to compute the taxable estate and the unused exclusion, even though no estate tax is due. The Executor may elect to allocate the unused exclusion to the surviving spouse only on a timely filed estate tax return. Otherwise, the unused exclusion may be lost. 

Why Can’t One Just Leave Everything to Their Spouse Since the Exclusion Is Portable?

Outside influences after the death of the first spouse can undo the best-laid plans. Unless the ultimate heir’s inheritance is vested upon the first spouse’s death, unintended persons may end up with the wealth (housekeeper, caregiver, new spouse, gold-digging girlfriend, or Lothario, for example). 

To ensure the children eventually get something, spouses typically leave each other a usufruct interest for life over their estate, with the naked ownership of the property passing down to their children. If their children are minors, this naked ownership is placed in trust until they are of a more mature age. 

A usufruct is the right to use and enjoy the property subject to the usufruct. The right of use depends on whether the thing is consumable or non-consumable. A consumable is a thing that you cannot enjoy without using it up. For example, if you have a usufruct of cash, you cannot enjoy the money without spending it. Accordingly, the usufructuary becomes the owner of the cash and must simply account to the naked owners at the end of the usufruct for the amount of cash that was subject to the usufruct.  

A non-consumable is a thing that you can enjoy without destroying the substance of the thing. For example, a spouse with usufruct of a house can live in the house or rent the house without having to destroy the house. At the end of the usufruct, the naked owners become the full owners of the thing. 

The children, or their trust, are referred to as naked owners because they can do little with the property left to them until the usufruct in favor of the spouse comes to an end. 

To illustrate, assume the husband dies with a community certificate of deposit (CD) worth $100,000 and a community house worth $80,000. The husband leaves his estate to his children, in naked ownership, subject to a usufruct for life in favor of his surviving spouse. The spouse and children obtain a simple judgment of possession in the husband’s succession proceedings. 

The wife can do what she wants with her half of the CD because it was hers to begin with. The wife can do what she wants with the husband’s half of the CD as usufructuary because it is consumable. She must repay $50,000 to the children as naked owners at the end of her usufruct, which will be at her death. The children will file a claim in her estate for the $50,000. 

With respect to the house, the wife owns one-half of the house and has usufruct over the other half. Unless the husband specifically grants her the right to sell half of the house in his will, she must obtain the children’s consent before the house can be sold. At that time, the wife and children could agree to split the proceeds or to allow the wife’s usufruct to attach to the proceeds, thereby fixing the amount of money owed to the children at the end of her usufruct. 

Louisiana is the only state in the country that allows the use of a usufruct to achieve estate planning. In Louisiana, a trust is only needed if you do not “trust” someone. If the children are minors, you may need a trust to hold their naked ownership interest. If a spouse is a spendthrift, you may need a trust to hold his or her interest so that it can be managed by a professional trustee. 

Does a Person’s Will Dictate Who Gets What of Their Estate?

Certain assets pass outside the probate process, such as life insurance and retirement plans. The proceeds from these contracts are paid directly to the stated beneficiary of the life insurance policy or the retirement plan. It is imperative to coordinate the beneficiary designation on these non-probate assets with the overall estate plan set forth in your will. 

Does One Need a Will?

Absolutely. Even if you do not have a federal taxable estate, a will may allow you to accomplish several other goals, such as: 

  1. Pick an Executor to avoid a fight over the job. 
  2. Set the compensation for the Executor. 
  3. Allow the Executor to choose assets to satisfy fractional bequests and divide the personal effects. 
  4. Dispense with the requirement of posting bond. 
  5. Allow for independent administration of the estate without court supervision. 
  6. Make specific bequests. 
  7. Apportion debts and death taxes among the heirs. 
  8. Dispense with Collation, a Louisiana law that allows certain children to force other children to settle up for any advantages received from you three years prior to your death. 
  9. Appoint guardians (called tutors in Louisiana) for your minor children. 
  10. Consider forced heirship issues. 

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