Louisiana has some unique estate planning laws that you cannot find in the rest of the nation because it is a civil-law jurisdiction that follows French and Spanish models of asset division. One of the most notable laws is giving surviving spouses access to usufructs.
Usufructs grant the surviving spouse access to the decedent’s community properties while still guaranteeing that the “naked owners” will come to inherit it. In most cases, this refers to the couple’s children or any other potential heirs. Surviving spouses get access if the decedent does not have a will or specifically includes it in the will. Depending on the circumstances, most usufructs will terminate once the surviving spouse dies or remarries.
While you could use this to avoid probate and allow more of your family to utilize your assets when you are gone, it could also put them at odds with each other and damage their relationship. It is important you are aware of potential consequences that arise from a badly planned usufruct.
Spouse vs. children
Surviving spouses still have a duty to make sure that the children get the full inheritance you promised them, but that doesn’t mean that they cannot get usage out of their deceased partner’s assets. They might use some consumable property such as cash that they can put towards future medical expenses or want to sell their cabin that one of their children would eventually own in the future.
Your children would not be happy if those assets are spent up or damaged by the previous spouse. Additionally, if the children are from previous marriages, the conflict can escalate further. For example, if the child of the first spouse should receive $50,000 from their parent, but the second spouse spends $20,000, then they would acquire $20,000 of the second spouse’s estate to make up for it. This leaves the child of the second spouse with less.
Parents vs. siblings
If you have no spouse or children to inherit your assets after your death, your usufruct would be given to your parents while your siblings would become the naked owners. Most of the conflict that would arise between your spouse and children are also applicable here, though your siblings may be more impatient because of the significant age gap. Having an older parent be the new owner of something that could get more usage out of your siblings can be understandably frustrating.
As complicated as usufructs sound, you can still utilize them properly as long as you know how to implement them into your will. If you do not want to put your family members in an aggravating scenario, clear communication with your heirs is crucial. An estate planning attorney can help you understand how usufructs work with different family combinations and how you should include them in your will.