People often think of estate planning as something reserved for the very rich but that’s not true. We all have an estate plan whether we know it or not because the state of Louisiana has decided who your property will pass to at death if you don’t create your own plan. While proper estate planning involves the orderly distribution of financial assets at your death and the minimization of taxes, legal fees and administrative expenses connected therewith, it is much more than that. Proper estate planning also strives to maintain your ability to control your financial assets while you are well and allows for those you choose to manage your assets if you become incapacitated.
While we usually think of estate planning as just drafting legal documents like wills, trusts, powers of attorney and healthcare directives, the goal of good estate planning should also be to preserve the relationships between those you love—relationships that are often strained upon your disability or death.
Basic Estate Planning
Almost all adults need some form of estate planning to make sure that if they become incapacitated (unable either physically or mentally to take care of their assets or themselves) that they have appointed someone to take care of those things for them. This is usually accomplished through signing a power of attorney appointing an agent to make financial and health care decisions for you if you are unable to do so for yourself. Additionally, many people also want to sign a living will to tell their healthcare providers and loved ones what to do if they are in an end of life situation. Finally, a HIPAA authorization appointing those you choose to access your health care information — this can be very helpful for family members that might take you to doctor’s appointments or otherwise need to discuss your healthcare information with your healthcare providers or health insurance companies. Not having a durable power of attorney and health care advance directives in place can cost your loved ones a lot of time, money and heartache as they may have to file a guardianship (what’s called an interdiction in Louisiana) against you to get proper authority to make decisions or take action if you cannot.
Additionally, as a part of their basic estate planning, most people also need a will to pass on their assets to their family and loved one at their death. Without a will to transmit your property at death, you will die intestate and the state of Louisiana will decide who gets your property and it may not be those that you would have chosen. For instance, in Louisiana, if you die intestate and are married, your spouse does not inherit your property if you have children; rather, your one-half of the community property passes to your children with your spouse having a usufruct (or right to use) your property. Also, Louisiana has a concept called forced heirship that entitles some children (and grandchildren) to inherit from you even if you want to leave them out.
While a will directs your property to those of your choosing instead of those the state of Louisiana chooses, a will also requires probate (or what is called a succession in Louisiana) to actually change ownership of your assets when you die to those named in the will. To avoid the need for probate or a succession, many people choose to use a revocable living trust as a will substitute. A properly funded revocable living trust will transmit your property to your beneficiaries without the need for probate.
Louisiana’s inheritance laws are much different from other states. Because of this, it is very important to trust your estate planning to a legal team that has many, many years of estate planning experience. The attorneys at Legacy Estate & Elder Law have more than 30 years of combined experience handling estate planning issues and they are also both board certified by the Louisiana Board of Legal Specialization in Estate Planning and Administration. Betty Raglin, who is located in our Lake Charles office is also Board Certified in Tax Law.
Beyond the Basics
While almost all adults need basic estate planning (including a durable power of attorney and healthcare directives), many people have needs that require estate planning beyond the basics. A family with a special needs child will need special needs planning — including a special needs trust and possibly a continuing tutorship or interdiction.
Others may need more sophisticated trusts to minimize or eliminate estate taxes or limited liability companies or other entities for asset protection planning. Business owners may need business succession planning (including buy-sell agreements) to ensure the smooth transition of their business to the next generation or a key employee. And still others, may wish to benefit one or more charities at their death and need charitable trusts or other estate planning to make sure their charitable intent is realized.
And while basic estate planning is almost always a part of taking care of an elder law client, many elder law clients need irrevocable trusts for Medicaid or VA Aid & Attendance planning.
So, if you are in the greater Baton Rouge area (including East Baton Rouge, Ascension, St. James, Iberville, Assumption, Livingston, Pointe Coupee or West Baton Rouge Parishes) or in the Lake Charles area (including Calcasieu, Cameron, Beauregard, Allen or Jefferson Davis Parishes) or in between in the Lafayette area or elsewhere in Louisiana, contact us today to schedule a consultation with a law firm well versed in Louisiana estate planning law to assist you with your needs.