The Louisiana Difference
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Louisiana is home to excellent food, genuine hospitality and lagniappe – or, "a little more." This "little more" extends to our practice of law too. If you have ever considered using an online service you may notice that many of the Do-It-Yourself Forms are excluded from use in Louisiana. Louisiana Law has many legal terms that provide a little lagniappe for the person who gets the right information, but can create major issues for the unwary.
Form Requirements of a Valid Will
One major difference is in the format requirement of a valid Will. One valid form is the handwritten Will. You must write the Will by hand and then sign and date it. The other form of a valid Will is a typed form, notarized and witnessed. Many online forms are fill-in-the -blank, a mixture of handwritten and typed format. Unfortunately, that form is not legitimate in the State of Louisiana.
No doubt your desire to protect your loved ones and to control where your possessions go is why you want to create a Will in the first place. As my grandmother said, "If you are going to do something, do it right, give it your best and don't cut corners." If you have the time and the inclination, a handwritten will is perfectly acceptable. And this form works particularly well if your Will is simple and you are giving only a few items. After all, no one wants to write out a Will longer than a page or two.
Something to keep in mind is that upon your death there will need to be two witnesses who can testify they recognize your handwriting and that your Will was written in your handwriting. I do most of my corresponding using a computer or texting. I don't think there are many people who could recognize my writing.
Or, you can consult with an estate-planning attorney who will take time to talk with you about your particular wishes. It is my experience that most families have unique situations and circumstances. Simply filling in the blanks may mean your estate planning documents do not address those particular needs. Nothing compares to the valuable counseling you will received from an attorney trained to understand the workings of Louisiana Law.
USUFRUCT (USE - A – WHAT????)
As an engineering friend would say to his attorney wife – "Usufruct, that's not a word." Usufruct became their secret word to describe the unknown and unknowable. However, proper use of a usufruct in Louisiana carries great clout. The provision of usufruct can ensure protection of your property for your spouse and children. The power this term wields is particularly important in blended families.
The term usufruct is defined in a law dictionary as: "The right of enjoying all the advantages derivable from the use of something that belongs to another, as far as is compatible with the substance of the thing not being destroyed or injured."
Usufruct allows someone who does not have complete ownership of something to use it and reap all its benefits. This means you could own a portion of something but not be able to use it, sell it, rent it or get any of its lagniappe. It is vital that you as owner of your property decide when, how and whom will be using your property – a properly drafted usufruct can do that.
Ownership of Property in Louisiana – How is it Different?
In most States the ownership of property is easy to understand. If I own half of something in Montana, then I own 50% of that property. Now, down here in Louisian' we figure we have a better way of dividing property. The best way to describe the division is to picture a chocolate Doberge cake sitting next to a chocolate muffin.
If I cut us each a piece of the cake, yours will look pretty much like mine ~Layers of moist, ooey-gooey, chocolate cake alternating with rich and creamy chocolate ganache. OH YEAH – but I digress. I could cut the muffin the same way, but I won't. Instead, I will take the top and give you the bottom. Now, we both have a piece of the muffin, but the pieces look different. The muffin just isn't the same without its top. I could offer to sell someone a piece of Doberge cake and they would probably buy it. On the other hand, not many people would be willing to buy a muffin bottom. One type of ownership has more power than the other.
Louisiana Law divides some property like the division of a muffin. The two halves do not look the same, but together they create a whole. Usufruct is a drafting tool and in the hands of a Louisiana attorney it can be used to protect your loved ones. A properly crafted usufruct can ensure that control and use of your property is divided the way you envision.
There are many other differences in Louisiana Law terms. However, the most important thing is how these terms may affect the outcome of your estate planning. Used correctly, your wishes are honored, your family is protected and your assets are distributed as you decide. Used incorrectly, your loved ones may not receive the benefits you intend for them. Let a Louisiana attorney help you craft an estate plan that not only meets your families needs, but takes full advantage of all the extras Louisiana law provides.