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Estate Planning Attorneys In Lafayette, LA

Louisiana law regarding wills and succession is a confusing combination of old and new statutes, including the right to usufruct and forced heirship. If you don’t have an experienced Lafayette estate planning attorney, it may be impossible to validate your wishes or those of a loved one. Succession under Louisiana law refers to the process of distributing property to heirs after death and debts are paid (probate in other states). Succession can also mean the estate itself which is left behind at death.

In Louisiana, not every property goes through succession. Assets that have a registered beneficiary (e.g., retirement assets such as IRAs and 401(k)s, life insurance policies, and annuities) don’t need to go through the process of succession. Instead, they’re transferred to the named beneficiary. So, it’s critical to double-check that your account’s beneficiaries are current. At Standard Law, we specialize in estate planning services and have the legal resources needed to best position you and your family for the future.

What Are The Benefits of Estate Planning?

There are various advantages to setting up an estate plan now as opposed to later. By having a plan, you decrease the probability of innocent mistakes, offer lucidity and comprehension for everyone included, and allow those involved to feel more comfortable with what’s in store. Other benefits of establishing an estate plan right now include:

  • Providing For Your Loved Ones
  • Protecting Your Children
  • Minimizing Your Expenses
  • Distributing Your Property and Assets Quickly
  • Stress-Free Retirement
  • Avoiding the Probate Process
  • Being Prepared for Medical Obstacles
  • Preserving Your Assets

Our Lafayette estate planning attorneys at Standard Law have the experience needed to help you take care of your family in the future. We will guide you through finding the best options for your specific needs. Call our office today to get started. We can help you and your family through the following estate planning obstacles.

Estate Planning Attorneys In Lafayette, LA

Your Last Will and Testament

A will is only one aspect of a complete estate plan. If somebody passes away without having created a Will, it’s called “dying intestate.” In this case, the state where the person resided will have rules about how their assets should be distributed among surviving relatives. Here are some general things to keep in mind about wills:

  • A will does not go into effect until the person dies, so it cannot help manage their affairs if they become incapacitated due to an illness or injury.
  • A will does not help an estate avoid probate. In fact, a will is a legal document submitted to the probate court, so it basically gives admission to Probate.
  • Documenting your choice of guardians for your children is important so that their welfare is not left up to chance in the event of your death. If you do not specify who you would like to raise your children, family members could end up fighting over custody, and your children could be put into the care of someone you would not have chosen.

Trusts

Trusts are versatile legal tools that come in many different types, serving various purposes such as investments, taxes, or personal planning. At its core, a trust is an entity with three separate parties: the person who creates the trust (the grantor), the trustee who manages it, and the beneficiaries of the trust. Usually, all three parties are one person or a married couple. With a revocable living trust, for example, someone creates a trust (the trust-maker) and names themselves the current trustees (trust managers) who manage the assets in the trust for their own benefit (trust beneficiary).

There are several pluses to setting up a trust, for example, side-stepping probate court. As a rule, assets in an irrevocable living trust will go to the people named as beneficiaries (or successors) right after the death of the person who set up the trust without having to go through probate proceedings. Also, some trusts offer tax benefits for both the grantor and the beneficiary. Trusts can be used to protect assets from creditors or to provide for someone else to manage and invest property on behalf of the trust-maker(s) and named beneficiaries. If well-drafted, trusts can also continue to be effective even if the trust-maker dies or becomes incapacitated.

Powers of Attorney

A power of attorney is a legal document that allows another person to act on your behalf. The extent of their authority is determined by the terms of the document, which can range from very broad to very specific. All powers of attorney are void after the death of the creator, and may also be rescinded if the creator becomes incapacitated and unable to make or communicate decisions. A durable power of attorney should be used when you want to assign a backup decision-maker in case you become incapacitated. You should update your Durable Powers of Attorney frequently, as banks and other financial institutions may be hesitant to honor one that is more than a year old.

Successions & Probate

When a person dies, their assets must be transferred to the heirs or legatees of the deceased person. Probate is the common law term for the court process of transferring title to assets of a deceased person. In Louisiana, this court process is referred to as a “succession.” The terms “probate” and “succession” can be used interchangeably in Louisiana.

Probate property is anything you own that doesn’t go into a trust or has some other form of title transfer when you die. If you don’t have a will, state law determines who gets your assets. But if you do have a valid will, it states your wishes for who should get your probate assets. Either way, this process can be complicated and an attorney can advise you best on how to proceed.

Louisiana Law & Wills

It is essential to have a legally sound last will and testament in place to protect your family. A qualified estate planning attorney in Lafayette with experience in Louisiana law can help you create a will that meets your unique needs and ensures that your property is distributed according to your wishes. A will gives you the ability to make decisions that can lower or remove the estate tax, as well as name an executor who can take care of your assets, pay off any debts, and distribute your belongings to your heirs. You’re also able to appoint a guardian for minor children (called a “tutor” under Louisiana law) in a will. Plus, trusts can be created for grandchildren, heirs with special needs, or those not currently mature enough to handle money responsibly.

If a last will and testament does not adhere to the prescribed form and Louisiana Civil Code, then it is invalid. If this problem arises, it creates immense difficulties for family members who are trying to follow the final wishes of their deceased loved one. By taking the time to draft a well-crafted will, you can avoid these issues by specifying precisely who you want to inherit your property – regardless of your marital status. For instance, you decide to legacy all of your Uncle Joe’s possessions to your children, or only select belongings like heirlooms. The one outlier is called a “forced heir” but we’ll touch on that topic later.

A “Forced Heir” Under Louisiana Law

According to the Louisiana Civil Code, any child of the deceased who is younger than 24 years old or permanently incapable of taking care of themselves is considered a forced heir. A forced heir has the right to claim part of your estate even if you left all your property to someone else, including your spouse. However, married couples can leave a lifetime usufruct to the surviving spouse over the inheritance belonging to the forced heir so that they can benefit from this asset during their remaining life.

Determining What Is Included In Your Estate Under Louisiana Law

According to Louisiana law, if you are married your estate usually encompasses your separate property and half of the community property belonging to the marriage. Under Louisiana civil law, separate property is defined as:

  • Property owned before marriage.
  • Property inherited by one spouse during marriage.
  • Property gifted to just one of the spouses during the marriage.

As defined by the Louisiana Civil Code, community property is any and all property that is acquired by either spouse during marriage. This property is generally owned equally by both spouses. However, there are some exceptions to this rule. A prenuptial agreement, or “marriage contract” as it’s called under Louisiana law, can limit what counts as community property. There are a lot of nuances when it comes to asset distribution. Luckily, a skilled Lafayette estate planning attorney can help you minimize or completely eliminate any risk.

Default Succession Under Louisiana Law

If somebody dies in Louisiana without a legally binding will, or with no will at all, then their assets are distributed according to a set order that differently treats separate and community property. In general, separate property is inherited as follows:

  1. Children
  2. Brothers and sisters
  3. Parents
  4. Spouse
  5. Grandparents or other ascendants
  6. Closest living relative
  7. The State of Louisiana

The listed heir/s would inherit the separate property of the estate at each step. If no such heir/s exist, then the next heir/s down the list inherits all separate property. The deceased’s portion of community property from marriage is inherited in this order:

  1. To children, with a usufruct to the surviving spouse
  2. To the surviving spouse

If the deceased spouse had no surviving children or direct descendants, the separate property is inherited by others according to the order specified.

Contact Our Lafayette Estate Planning Attorneys Today

There are a number of things you can do to protect your wealth, businesses, and estates. Planning for powers of attorney, Medicaid, disability benefits, and probate can help ensure that if the unexpected happens, you and your family are taken care of. At Standard Law, our Lafayette estate planning attorneys are experts in elder law and have a strong reputation in the Acadiana community. Contact our office today to take the next steps in your estate planning and allows us to provide protection for both you and your family.