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Many people may realize the importance of estate planning, yet they still decide to put it off. They tend to think that the process is too expensive, too complicated, or the options do not seem appealing. Yet, they do not even realize how many planning choices they have. In the past, individuals may have turned to a will to take care of their estate plans. However, these days many people are choosing a revocable living trust instead. Why? Because of the time and cost savings that this trust provides them, plus the extra control they have over their assets.

If you are in Louisiana and thinking about your own estate planning needs, this guide will help you understand the steps involved in creating a revocable living trust, the importance of funding, and why it may be the right decision for you and your loved ones.

What Does “Funding” Your Trust Mean?

Funding a trust is the process of transferring assets from your name into your trust. To do this, you need to physically change the titles of your specific assets from your name (individual or joint name, if married) to your trust’s name. You would also need to change most of your beneficiary designations to your trust as well.

Why is Funding So Important?

One of the main reasons people in Louisiana turn to a living trust is to avoid probate or the succession process. This process tends to be costly, time-consuming, and an invasion of privacy as most of your private matters become public record. Unfortunately, some individuals make the mistake of not transferring the title of their assets to their trusts, and as a result, do not avoid this probate process. Until you fund your trust, your trust will not control anything. If you want your living trust to avoid probate at death, you need to make sure you change titles and beneficiary designations while you are able to do so.

Is the Funding Process Difficult?

Overall the funding process is not complicated, but it takes some time to complete. Even though today, you should not meet much resistance to transferring your assets. You will still need to prepare the transfer documents. Additionally, an institution may want to see proof that your trust exists before moving assets over. As a result, you will also need to have your attorney prepare a certificate of trust, which is a shortened version of the trust that verifies the trust’s existence and identifies the trustee and explains the power given to them.

To simplify this process, make sure you make a list of your assets, including their locations and values. This can help you avoid getting sidetracked and ensure your information is complete. In addition, consider working with an experienced legal team that understands this funding process. They can help you prepare most of the required documents, while also being there to assist and encourage you the whole way.

Why Do I Need a Living Trust in Louisiana?

One of the primary reasons many people in Louisiana decide to create a living trust is because you can continue to sell and buy assets just as you usually do and remove any assets at any point in time.

In addition, a living trust creates privacy. This trust does not need to be approved by the court and will not become a public record. As a result, nobody will know what is indicated in the trust, what assets are passed down, and who gets what. In comparison, a will is public and must be approved by the probate court to be valid.

Finally, a living trust will also protect you if you become mentally incapacitated. Since all of your assets are owned, managed, and controlled by the trust, a conservatorship proceeding will most likely not be needed to have your financial life managed for your benefit. Rather, you will be able to appoint an individual that you know and trust to be the trustee, if you are unable to serve or to continue to serve in this position. This will help you stay in control for as long as possible before you allow another individual to manage your assets.

Who Controls The Assets in My Revocable Living Trust?

A revocable living trust is a legal entity created to hold ownership of an individual’s assets. In most cases, the individual forming the revocable living trust will name themselves as trustees, meaning they will be responsible for managing and controlling the assets placed in it. Until their death, at which point the named successor trustee will take over.

Are There Specific Assets I Need to Put into My Living Trust?

Typically, you would want all of your assets to be placed in your trust. However, not all assets can be placed in your trust, and there may be some that you do not want to be in there. Generally, the assets that you will want in your living trust include:

  • Real Estate
  • Investments
  • Business Interests
  • Notes Payable to You
  • Banks/ Savings Accounts

Speaking with an experienced Louisiana estate planning attorney can help you figure out exactly which assets you need to place in your living trust and which ones you should not. For example, IRAs, life insurance proceeds, annuities, and other retirement assets are considered non-probate assets. This means they cannot be transferred into a living trust because of their negative tax consequences. That is why it is best to discuss this issue with a lawyer.

Let Stephenson, Chávarri & Dawson Help You with Your Estate Planning Needs

Estate planning requires paying attention to details and ensuring that everything is prepared adequately. For many, this is not possible on their own. That is why the law firm of Stephenson, Chávarri & Dawson is here to help you. These experienced estate planning attorneys can help you decide if a living trust is a viable option for you. If so, they can make sure that all the necessary steps of creating this trust are met.

If you have any questions about living trusts and the funding process, or any other estate planning concerns, do not hesitate to contact Stephenson, Chávarri & Dawson today, or call our firm at 504-523-6496.

 

sources:

What Does It Mean To Fund A Living Trust? (2019). RabalaisEstatePlanning

Revocable Living Trusts. (ND).Theus Law Offices.

Understanding Funding Your Living Trust. (ND). Estate Planning.

It is estimated that almost 70% of individuals in the United States pass away without a will. The problem with this is, if you die and do not have a will, you lose all control of who inherits your estate. Additionally, your estate can be subject to costly but unnecessary estate taxes as a result. This can create a significant and expensive issue for your loved ones.

So why are more people not creating a will? Because many wrongly assume that wills are too expensive or take forever to draft. However, both of these assumptions are not only wrong but prevent millions of people from taking a necessary and crucial step in their estate planning. Creating a will in Louisiana does not have to be difficult, and with help from Stephenson, Chávarri & Dawson, L.L.C., we can make sure that the process is that much easier.

Two Types of Wills in Louisiana

Under Louisiana’s current laws, there are two forms of valid wills: the olographic testament (i.e., holographic testament in other states) and notarial testament. For either of these wills to be accurate, they must be made by the testator and meet the following criteria:

  • Meet the legal requirements of Louisiana.
  • Meet the specific requirements of the state where the testator was domiciled at their death, or when the will was executed.
  • Meet the specific requirements of the state’s statutes where the will was executed at the time the will was executed (other than Louisiana).
  • If the will involves real estate, it must meet the requirements of the state’s laws where the real estate is located.

Notarial Testament Requirements

Five different forms can be used to create a notarial testament under the Louisiana Code. What form you use will depend on the mental and physical condition of the testator.

Consider the following conditions:

  • A form when the testator knows how to read and sign their name and can physically do both.
  • A form when the testator can read but is physically unable to sign their name.
  • A form when the testator cannot read.
  • A form when the testator is blind but knows how to read braille and is physically able to do so.
  • A form when the testator has been legally declared physically deaf or blind and deaf but can read sign language, visual English, or braille.

Generally, most wills fall under the first category, where the testator knows how to read and sign their name. As a result, the testator must also complete the following actions to have a valid will.

  • Sign at the end of the document.
  • Sign on each page of the will.
  • Sign all the documents in the presence of a notary and two competent witnesses, and
  • Declare to the notary and the two competent witnesses that the instrument is their testament.

The Witness Attestation Clause

Additionally, to complete a notarial testament, the two witnesses and the notary also need to sign a statement, while the notary, the testator, and the two witnesses are together. This statement confirms that all the testamentary formalities have been followed. Failure to include this clause in the testament invalidates the will.

According to Louisiana law, this statement needs to be in the following form:

“In our presence, the testator has declared or signified that this instrument is his testament and has signed it at the end and on each other separate page, and in the presence of the testator and each other we have hereunto subscribed our names this ____day of _________, ____.”

Do not confuse the witness attestation clause with a testator attestation clause, which is also required in a will. The testator attestation clause is a statement placed before the testator’s signature and explains how the will was witnessed and signed. Going over all of these formalities with an experienced estate planning attorney can help ensure that you complete each step of this process accurately and include all the necessary information.

Olographic Testament Requirements

In Louisiana, an olographic testament is a will that is entirely written, signed, and dated in the testator’s handwriting. Yet, even though the rules tend to seem more relaxed than those of a notarial testament. The document still must show the testator’s intent that they meant for the document to serve as their last will.

The requirements for an olographic will include the following:

  • Handwritten: The entire testament must be in the handwriting of the testator. Problems arise when these wills contain material that is partially handwritten and partially typed. In situations where this occurs, the court will look at only the handwritten portion and figure out if it meets the olographic testament requirements.
  • Dated: There needs to be a clear date that appears somewhere in the will. The date is sufficiently indicated if the month, day, and year are reasonably discoverable from the information stated in the will.  If it is not clear, the court will have to look at other evidence to figure out the date.
  • Signed: Even though the testator must sign their name at the end of the will. If anything is documented below the signature line, it does not mean that the will is invalidated. Instead, it is up to the court to figure out if the additional language is part of the will.

How Can Stephenson, Chávarri & Dawson, L.L.C., Help You With Your Will?

At Stephenson, Chávarri & Dawson, LLC, our legal team can take care of your will’s legal details. We know that many people are hesitant to take on the process because they fear it will take forever or be overly complicated. However, our estate lawyers have many years of experience in wills, successions, and estate planning, and we know how to comply with all the procedural requirements.

  • Save Time and Energy: When you work with our firm, we can handle all the complex tasks of preparing your will, making sure it is crafted accurately—saving you a whole lot of time and energy in the process.
  • Do the Research; With laws changing every day, the process may seem quite challenging. However, our firm can take care of all of this research for you. We can look into the IRS regulations, federal regulations, and Louisiana rules and verify that your will is up-to-date,
  • Help You Save More Money: We can do more than just prepare you with a will. Our team can look into your whole estate, figuring out how we can get you additional financial benefits and tax breaks.

Do not struggle over a bunch of legal forms, hoping your will is prepared correctly. Instead, contact Stephenson, Chávarri & Dawson, L.L.C. today, or call our law office at 504-523-6496. Let us get you the legal help that you need.

 

 

Sources:

You need a will — even if you’re not ‘rich.’(2019). By Bill Bischoff. MarketWatch

There are a lot of celebrity trends that are fun to emulate: the latest fashions, for example. You may avidly follow the latest celebrity gossip or try your hand at some of the makeup or hair trends that the most popular celebrities are sporting.

There’s one trend, however, that savvy individuals definitely want to avoid: neglecting your will prior to your death.

It’s not a new trend, either. For years, celebrities have ignored the potential pitfalls of not having a will or not updating it. Jimi Hendrix and Bob Marley both died without wills. In other cases, like Albert C. Barnes, the celebrity’s wishes are blatantly ignored as their heirs moved forward with estate management.

You don’t want that happen to you! Instead, make sure you know what you need to do in order to keep your will current, and make sure you keep it up-to-date. Maybe you don’t have a celeb-worthy estate. Perhaps you don’t worry about what will happen to your possessions once you’re no longer here to enjoy them–and no one wants to spend too much time dwelling on the possibility of their own death. There are several key reasons you may want to make sure that your will remains up-to-date and that you’re prepared for whatever comes after your death.

1. You want to know what will happen to your children.

Do you have minor children?

If you have minor children, who do you want to take custody of them after your death?

How do you want to handle your finances and the funds that you leave behind for your children, especially if they still have many years before they reach adulthood?

You may have a celebrity-worthy list of divorces in your past, or it might just be you and the kids. No matter what your marriage history looks like, however, you want to make sure that you properly provide for your children in the event that they lose you. Carefully consider who you want to take custody of your children if something happens to you and your spouse. If you’re no longer married to your children’s other parent, you may want to be especially careful in making provision for your children. Do you want to set up a trust that the children cannot access until they reach a certain age? Do you want to make sure that whoever raises your children has funds to maintain their current standard of living?

Your will helps establish what you want to happen to your children in the event of your death. While you cannot lay it out perfectly, you can go a long way toward improving their future by writing it out in the will. Without that provision, you may leave your children at the mercy of a judge who does not know them or you–and who will have no idea what your wishes might be.

2. You want to make sure that your wishes are adhered to if you cannot make your own medical decisions.

If you become incapacitated in some way and cannot make medical decisions for yourself, what do you want? Do you want your family to take all possible measures to prolong your life, or do you prefer that they take only minimal measures? If something happens and you cannot make those decisions for yourself, who do you want to make them?

For many families, the person you want to make those decisions is not your spouse. You may have a specific child or loved one who is more likely to adhere to your wishes than another, or you may know that one child will suffer much more guilt if they have to make a difficult decision related to your medical care. A living will can help set out what you want to happen and who you want to make those decisions–and ensure that people listen to what you want.

3. Your will can help prevent arguments after your death.

All too many families face serious arguments after the death of a loved one. One family member might adamantly believe that he deserves the bulk of the estate. Another might think that it should come to her, regardless of what anyone else wants. Only rarely do family members settle on a fair and equitable division of property after the loss of a loved one, especially if that loved one had substantial resources.

Your will can help avoid those arguments. While it might not stop your children from arguing over specific heirlooms or make it easy for them to decide how to manage their shares in the home they grew up in, it can help set out what you intend to happen with all of your possessions. The more clearly you designate what you want to happen after your death, the more arguments you can help avoid.

4. You want to avoid the problems associated with an outdated will.

Neglecting your will does not necessarily mean that you do not have one at all. It can also mean that you have not kept yours up-to-date based on your current circumstances. Consider:

Did you recently go through a divorce? You may want to make sure that your spouse no longer has any right to your property.

Did you recently get married? You may want to make sure that your new spouse has access to the assets that you share.

Have you had children since you last updated your will? You may want to change your heirs to reflect changes in your family status.

Did you lose a loved one you have named as a beneficiary of your will, or even as a guardian to your children? You need to make changes to ensure that your will still reflects your current needs.

A will serves a critical document after your death, ensuring that your loved ones follow your guidelines for how to handle your property and your other wishes at the end of your life. If you neglect it, however, it may no longer reflect your current needs. If you need to update your will, contact Stephenson, Chavarri & Dawson, L.L.C. at 504-523-6496 today.

The most recent PwC U.S. Family Business Survey (2019) found that 58 percent of respondents had succession plans, but the vast majority of them were informal. If you don’t engage in proper succession planning for your family business, you risk your family and others involved in your business engaging in heated arguments that can lead to expensive legal proceedings. Additionally, family business conflicts sometimes play out in the local media, which can hurt sales when loyal customers take sides.

Below we provide five important steps to a successful family business succession plan so you can rest assured a smooth transition occurs if you become incapacitated or pass away, or you are ready to sail off in the sunset towards retirement.

1. Collect Information

Preparation is the key to a successful family business succession plan. Before you begin planning, you need to collect relevant information to share with your estate planning attorney. This might also include enlisting the help of accountants and financial advisors. Not only does this provide your lawyer with the things they need to help you plan, but it also provides an opportunity to get your personal and business records organized and implement a system to keep them organized and up to date. Examples of documents you will need for business succession planning include:

  • Current business governing documents
  • Related party contracts
  • Vendor contracts
  • Any estate planning documents that can impact governance, ownership, or succession of your business

2. Get a Current Valuation of Your Business

For a successful family business succession plan, you need a reliable valuation of your business. This includes an assessment of each family business entity and all business assets. If you do not yet have a current valuation, your estate planning lawyer can help you obtain one. In fact, getting an attorney involved in the valuation of your business can help avoid major mistakes during the planning process. If your attorney helps you with a succession plan and starts with a faulty valuation, it follows that everything that relies on that valuation will be inaccurate.

Your family business succession plan can also benefit in other ways by obtaining a current business valuation. As you go through the valuation process, information about the strengths and weaknesses of your business will emerge. This gives you the opportunity to improve your operation and increase profits. The valuation professional can also help your lawyer draft the best language for your buy-sell agreements. Finally, establishing a relationship with a valuation professional allows you to more easily get updated valuations on a regular basis, allowing you to update your buy-sell agreements and other aspects of your plan as needed.

3. Choose Who You Want to Take Over

Arguably, one of the most important aspects of a successful family business succession plan is choosing which child will run the business, or whether multiple children will share the responsibility. You and your children might have assumptions about who will take over, but it’s important to spell these things out ahead of time to avoid difficulties in the future. It’s highly likely the child or children you intend to take over the family business already play a large role in your organization.

To ensure success, you need to spend time early in the planning process working with your attorney to address any potential business interruptions that might occur as a result of the sudden death or incapacitation of any family members who currently play a key role in your business, and will continue to play a key role once you’re gone. For example, you should ensure the right parties have updated powers of attorney for voting by designating a “transfer-on-death” beneficiary to avoid probate delays. You should also have measures in place to replace the chief executive if he or she exits the business unexpectedly. By the time your succession plan is complete, these business structures will be more permanent.

4. Create Rules for Governance and Ownership

Before making any transfers of ownership, your estate planning lawyer needs to help you develop the rules that will regulate governance, ownership, and owner exits after succession has been implemented. This includes rules in four main areas: unit voting, governing board, executive authority, and beneficial ownership.

  • Unit voting refers to the power to exercise voting rights as an owner by appointing and removing board members and approving or rejecting major transactions.
  • Governing board rules includes deciding who sits on a board and how those members will be elected to deal with top executives, oversee budgets, issue dividends, and other board duties.
  • Executive authority refers to rules for owners and board members with regard to making decisions about appointments, titles, duties, and compensation.
  • Beneficial ownership includes family members who get profits from the business but do not hold an employee role. You must make decisions about whether family members should own shares or whether shares should be held in a trust, as well as other issues related to the acquisition and ownership.

5. Update Your Estate Plan

Prior to transferring control and implementing your family business succession plan, you need to update your estate plan with all the decisions made above. This typically includes adding wills and revocable trusts in accordance with any governance decisions made such as allocation of voting rights, allocation of business equity, and allocation of other personal assets. You should also include instructions for the use of life insurance proceeds and how estate taxes should get paid. Additionally, if you plan to leave any assets to charity, you need to include that information in your estate plan.

Contact an Experienced Estate Planning Attorney to Create Your Family Business Succession Plan

The experienced estate planning attorneys at Stephenson, Chávarri & Dawson have helped numerous family businesses plan for succession. We help clients collect the needed information to draft legally-binding documents to ensure succession goes smoothly when senior owners retire, pass away, or become incapacitated. Contact us today online or at 504-523-6496 to discuss your family business succession plan with a member of our skilled legal team.

Following a divorce, you may need to make many changes in your life. Your income changes. Your residence may change. You may need to change your child custody arrangements.

Do you need to change your will and other estate planning documents, too?

In short: you should always review any binding legal documents following a divorce, since the way you want to deal with them may change substantially. Consider these documents that you may want to revisit.

Child Custody Arrangements

You may have plans for what happens to your children if you and your former spouse both die. Do those plans change now that you have divorced? Carefully consider how you want to manage any child custody arrangements. Keep in mind that you may need to work with your former spouse. Generally, the child’s other parent will get full custody if something happens to you; however, you may want to make arrangements that will allow visitation for grandparents, for example. You may also want to have another discussion with your former spouse about what you would like to happen to the children if both of you pass away. If either of you remarries, you may want to visit these documents again.

Your Will

What happens to your possessions after your death? A joint will, put together before your divorce, may have assigned those assets to the individuals both you and your spouse wanted to include. Your will may also have clearly stated that your spouse would receive all property and all of your assets if you died first. You certainly want to revisit that document after your divorce, since you may have very different plans for your assets once you no longer need to take your former spouse into consideration. Even if you did not name your former spouse directly in the will, assuming that community property would continue to belong to them in the event of your death, you may want to reconsider who will receive your finances and other assets after your death. Did you name a beneficiary in your former spouse’s family? Do you want to change that information based on your divorce?

Carefully revisit your will after any major life events to ensure that it still reflects your wishes. Keep in mind that if you do not change your will, the executor of your estate may end up following the instructions laid out in your current will, even if it no longer reflects your circumstances or the individuals you wish to benefit in the event of your death.

Your Living Trust

Have you set assets up as a living trust to create an easier transition of ownership in the event of your death? You may have created a living trust intended to streamline settling your estate after your death. Ownership may transfer easily to your direct heirs. If you named your spouse on that living trust, you may want to remove them.

Handling an Inheritance for Minor Children

If you have minor children who will receive your assets in the case of your death, you may want to carefully consider how you want to set up their inheritance. Depending on how and when your children will take possession of those assets, if you die before your former spouse, he or she may end up with control of those assets until your children reach the age of adulthood. You may want to set up a trust for your children that will remain closed until they can manage it for themselves. Some parents do not allow minor children to take command of their inheritance until they reach 18, 21, or even 25, when they are more likely to make positive financial decisions.

Medical Power of Attorney and End-of-Life Instructions

A medical power of attorney designates who you want to make medical decisions for you if you cannot make them for yourself. Most married couples assume that their spouse will automatically have the right to make those decisions. However, if you set forth a medical power of attorney that specifically named your spouse, you may want to consider who you now want to make medical decisions on your behalf if you cannot make them for yourself. You may also want to consider who you currently have named as your medical power of attorney if you chose a family member or friend of your former spouse.

You may also want to consider any end-of-life directives you left behind in your legal instructions, particularly if your spouse influenced those decisions. For example, if your spouse preferred to take all possible measures to keep you alive, but you prefer that doctors not use extraordinary measures to prolong your life, you might want to change that directive after your divorce. Review those documents carefully to ensure that they reflect your current desires.

Your Life Insurance Policies

Most people, when they take out a life insurance policy, name their spouse as the primary beneficiary. If you die, your life insurance policy will pay out to the beneficiary named in your policy—even if you have since divorced your spouse. In addition to the other legal paperwork you may want to revisit following your divorce, you should carefully examine your life insurance policy, whether private or employer-sponsored. Who benefits in the event of your death? You may want to name your children rather than your spouse. If you fear that your spouse will mismanage those funds even if they go to your children, you may want to set them up to pay into a trust set aside for your children. You may also choose to name an outside beneficiary. On the other hand, you may want to name your spouse as the beneficiary even after your divorce if your spouse will continue to provide care for your minor children and will need those funds to ensure that your children have what they need. Consult your attorney to learn more about your legal options.

After a divorce, you have many considerations you must keep in mind, including the legal paperwork. If you need to revisit your estate planning needs, including your will, your medical power of attorney, and any other planning documents, Stephenson, Chavarri & Dawson, L.L.C., can help. Contact us today at 504-523-6496 to change your legal documents or to learn more about what changes you need to make following your divorce.

Following serious injuries, whether in the case of a workers’ compensation claim or a personal injury claim, working with a personal injury attorney is the most effective way to ensure that you receive the support you deserve. Many clients find that a personal injury attorney can help increase the compensation you receive for your injuries. From hospitality workers who suffer injuries in the New Orleans area to construction workers who suffer injury on the job or even landscaping or masonry workers who face serious injuries due to their work responsibilities, there are many advantages to having an attorney on your side.

Unfortunately, if a language barrier exists, it can complicate the legal process and leave you confused, intimidated, and uncertain. What did the opposing counsel actually find? How did the judge respond? You may find yourself out of your depth, especially when facing extremely technical language or dealing with questions you do not understand.

A bilingual attorney can help. Consider these benefits of working with a bilingual attorney when you must deal with a personal injury or workers’ compensation claim in Louisiana.

1. A bilingual attorney can make sure that you understand the questions you’re asked and how you should respond.

Many people respond to uncertainty by talking more. If you did not fully understand the question in the first place, providing more information will increase the odds that you answered it correctly, right?

Unfortunately, when dealing with workers’ compensation or personal injury claims, it can prove beneficial to provide less information to the insurance company or other party asking questions. A bilingual attorney can help you understand the questions asked and what information you need to provide. Not only that, they can ensure that you understand your rights and what information you should and should not share, preventing you from potentially minimizing the compensation you can receive by offering too much information.

2. A bilingual attorney can improve your understanding of the data collected by opposing counsel.

If you need to take your claim to court, it can prove extremely confusing even when you speak the language fluently. When a language barrier exists, opposing counsel may try to capitalize on your lack of understanding as they present evidence. You may have the key to disproving or disputing evidence they have provided, but if you do not understand it, you may not have the ability to provide it. A bilingual attorney, on the other hand, can translate all of that information into your native language, increasing your understanding.

3. A bilingual attorney can make sure that everyone understands you.

Whether you’re on the phone with the insurance company for the fourth time this month or you’re answering questions about your injuries and limitations in court, a bilingual attorney can help ensure that everyone involved in the process understands what you have to say. A communication barrier can make it incredibly difficult for you to share information, whether you’re going over how your injuries have impacted your life or explaining how the injuries occurred and who helped contribute to your accident. A bilingual attorney can help translate what you have to say and ensure that your story gets heard correctly.

4. A bilingual attorney can help you better understand your rights.

Let’s face it: many laws and legal rights are difficult to understand even in your native language. Add in a language barrier, and it can prove even more difficult for you to get the information you need. By working with a bilingual attorney, however, you can improve your understanding of your legal rights. Your attorney can explain your right to compensation following a serious injury, help you understand what happens after a workplace injury, or help you understand how to handle your medical bills following a serious accident.

5. A bilingual attorney can help you understand the compensation offers provided.

In many personal injury claims, the insurance company that covers the liable party will not simply write a check for the full amount you deserve. In many cases, they may try to get you to accept a lower settlement. When a language barrier exists, you may struggle more to understand exactly what the offer entails, including how that offer compares to your long-term medical expenses and the other issues you may face. A bilingual attorney can help provide you with a better understanding of that settlement offer and how it is likely to impact you. This can help you make a better decision about when to accept an offer and when to continue negotiating.

If your claim needs to go to court, a bilingual attorney can also translate the judge’s pronouncements or a jury verdict, which means you will fully understand what the verdict represents for you.

6. A bilingual attorney can help connect you to the resources you need.

Your injuries may leave you in serious need of assistance, especially if you suffered severe injuries that cause multiple complications. Where a language barrier exists, it can cause additional complications in getting the support and assistance you need. While some providers offer services in a second language, others may not–and it can prove difficult to discover which ones will work with you and for you without calling each one. When you work with a bilingual attorney, on the other hand, that attorney can help narrow down available resources and ensure that you can connect with the providers you really need throughout your recovery and as you file your claim.

If English is not your first language, working with a bilingual attorney can make handling your personal injury or workers’ compensation claim substantially easier. At Stephenson, Chavarri & Dawson, L.L.C., we have a complete bilingual staff who are experienced in translating legal jargon and ensuring that our clients fully understand the challenges they face. If you suffered an injury due to the negligence of another party or suffered an injury at work that has left you in need of workers’ compensation assistance, contact us today at  504-523-6496 to schedule a consultation.

Too often, we get busy with our lives and fail to plan for the future. Even when we take time to plan for retirement, we often overlook the importance of estate planning. What many fail to understand is why having Living Wills, Powers of Attorney for Healthcare and a DNR decision is something important to consider. While most of us believe our families know what our wishes are, it is best to have them in writing to avoid loved ones needing to make a decision when emotions are running high — such as after you have been involved in an accident, or you are otherwise incapacitated. Towards that end, there are some facts you should know about some of the most common estate planning tools at your disposal.

Understanding Living Wills

Sometimes these documents are referred to as an Advance Medical Directive. It is important to understand how a living will is used, and what it will not be used for. First, a living will is only used in the event you are unable to communicate with your medical team and advise them of what steps they should take to perform life-saving medical procedures. The specific language contained in a living will shows exactly what must occur for the living will to become effective. Specifically, these documents state:

 If at any time I should have an incurable injury, disease or illness, or be in a continual profound comatose state with no reasonable chance of recovery, certified to be a terminal and irreversible condition by two physicians who have personally examined me, one of whom shall be my attending physician, and the physicians have determined that my death will occur whether or not life-sustaining procedures are utilized and where the application of life-sustaining procedure would serve only to prolong artificially the dying process, I direct . . .

Living wills also cover important information for your medical team which directs or forbids them to take specific actions. For example, if your condition is terminal, your living will also go further and directs whether you will receive invasive nutrition and hydration support, normally through the use of intravenous and feeding tubes. Living wills also direct your medical team on the use of pain medication to ensure you are not suffering in your last days.

A properly executed living will ensures you have control over your medical care when you are faced with a life-ending disease or injury. Rather than depend on your family to recall your wishes pertaining to organ donation or end of life care, these documents clearly spell out your wishes.

What You Should Know About Healthcare Powers of Attorney

Unlike a living will, these powers of attorney can be exercised at any time you are unable to communicate with your healthcare team. Examples of this would include if you fell and suffered a concussion which resulted in your losing consciousness, you were involved in an auto accident and were unable to speak, or in any circumstances where medical authorization would be required to perform any procedure and you are unable to communicate.

It is also important for you to understand the wishes expressed in your Living Will are to be held up by the person you designate as your health care proxy or agent. Remember, this person only has the authority to control medical procedures or treatments when you are not suffering a terminal illness. This means if you are taken to an emergency room and have no ability to communicate, they will authorize the team there to treat your injuries. Treatment may include surgery, tests, or medication depending on the extent of your injuries.

When you decide who your healthcare agent should be, you should make them aware of other documents you may have executed including a Living Will and DNR order. Taking this step will help ensure your wishes are carried out in the event your injuries are life-threatening. You are free to change health care agents at any time, and as in the case of a Living Will, you also have the right to modify your healthcare power of attorney at any time.

Important Facts About DNR Orders

Do not resuscitate (DNR) orders are used when your heart stops beating. These orders are designed prohibit medical teams from stepping in and performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) through person-to-person or mechanical means. These orders will only be used by a physician when you are critically ill and CPR is only prolonging your life.

You should also be aware these orders are used only after checking with the agent named in your Healthcare Power of Attorney. If you do not have a DNR order on file, doctors are mandated to use all measures to save your life, regardless of how invasive those measures may be. While someone who is young may not need a DNR, patients who have a terminal illness or are elderly and not in the best of health may wish to have one on file.

Living Wills, Powers of Attorney and DNRS Legalities

You should be aware none of these documents are valid in Louisiana unless they are properly executed and witnessed. Additionally, each person who has these orders on file should regularly review their choices and make changes if they wish to. In some instances, people have orders on file and later decide to change their minds about some specifics. This would involve drafting new documents, having new ones signed, and making sure your family is familiar with your wishes.

Estate Planning is Important for Everyone

You may not think these documents are essential for your personal situation. However, the time to have some of these documents on file is well before they are needed. For example, if you were involved in a car accident tomorrow and needed life-saving surgery you need someone to approve that surgery. While a spouse, or a parent of a minor child, may make that decision for you, if you are single and above the age of majority you need someone prepared to ensure your wishes are carried out.

Contact an Estate Planning Attorney Today

You may think an estate planning attorney is not a necessity. However, if you draft any of these important healthcare documents on your own, you run a risk of not having the proper signatures and authorizations you need to make them enforceable. This is why you should contact Stephenson, Chávarri & Dawson, LLC today, at 504-523-6496 for all your medical care planning — not wait until it is too late and you cannot communicate on your own.

Estate planning allows you to lay out what happens with your assets after your death: how your property will be distributed and what you will provide for your loved ones. The process can also help set up a plan that designates the party responsible for providing financial and medical assistance for you following your death. Is estate planning really necessary? Without proper estate planning, your family may face substantial difficulties along the way. Consider these reasons why proper estate planning is critical to your family’s future.

1. Estate planning allows you to designate who can make decisions for you if you cannot make them for yourself.

Many people have a highly developed idea of what they would like to happen at the end of their lives. You may, for example, want to make use of every medical possibility to prolong your life for as long as possible; or you might prefer to avoid extensive measures past a certain point in your life. If something happens and you cannot make those decisions for yourself, you may want to designate a specific individual to make those decisions for you.

As part of your estate planning, you can set up a medical power of attorney that will allow the person you choose to make decisions for you. For most married people, their spouse will automatically get that right if they cannot make decisions on their own. You may, however, want to designate someone else to make those decisions–or you might want to designate which one of your children you want to be responsible for making those decisions. An advance healthcare directive can also help set out exactly what you intend to happen in certain medical situations, making your wishes clear.

Likewise, as you age, you may lose the ability to continue your own financial management. Many elderly individuals choose to designate a financial power of attorney: someone who can handle their finances, pay their bills, and help them stay financially stable even as they continue to age.

2. You may need to take a fresh look at your life insurance policies.

Your life insurance needs may change dramatically at various points throughout your life. If you have a spouse and a young family, for example, you may need to make sure that your life insurance will provide adequate support, especially if you have a spouse who will have to go back to work or find childcare for your children after your death. As you age, you may want to take a look at how your life insurance policy will help pay for your funeral and burial expenses.

Likewise, you may need to consider who will receive the benefits from your life insurance policy. For example, if you have been divorced, your former spouse may still be named the beneficiary on your life insurance policy. You may want to designate your children as beneficiaries as they age, or change the provisions when you no longer have minor children. At each stage of life, reexamining those benefits can help you choose the life insurance option that works best for you.

3. Estate planning can help you designate what you want to happen to your children if you pass away before they are of age.

As part of your estate planning, you will need to designate who will get custody of your minor children if you die. Most parents do not want to think about the possibility that their children will be left with no one to care for them, but you do not want the decision made by the courts, who do not know you or your children. Without a will, however, the court will be responsible for deciding what happens to your children, and your wishes may not be taken into account. As you handle estate planning, you can select who will receive custody of your minor children if you die. You can also help make provisions for those children financially, whether you choose to provide money to help their guardian raise them or you want to set aside money in trust for them when they reach adulthood. This provision can prove critical to your family’s future, especially if you pass away before your children reach adulthood.

4. Estate planning now can help reduce arguments after your death.

All too many families find themselves split apart by arguments surrounding the disbursement of a loved one’s possessions. Even the most loving family can wind up arguing over who deserves what or what cherished possessions they should get to take. Your will, however, can help reduce many of those arguments. Through your will, you can set out exactly what you intend to happen to your money and possessions after your death, which can help reduce squabbling.

5. Creating a living trust can make it easier for your loved ones to take possession of your assets after your death.

In many states, moving the deceased’s assets through probate can take a long time. A living trust may still require some time for transfer of assets, but it can streamline the process and make it easier for everyone involved. Your living trust can be altered as long as you live, whether you want to add assets, remove them, or change beneficiaries. It can still take time to settle a living trust. Your beneficiaries may need several months, and need to handle accounting fees, before they take full possession of your assets. The living trust, however, can streamline that process and help them avoid probate, which can prove time-consuming and frustrating.

Whether you have been putting off estate planning and recently recognized how important it is for your family’s future or you need to review your will, living trust, or medical directives to ensure that they meet your current needs, working closely with an attorney can make the process easier. Contact  Stephenson, Chavarri & Dawson, L.L.C. at 504-523-6496 to schedule an appointment to start working on your estate planning needs today. It’s never too early to start preparing for your family’s future!

During the COVID-19 pandemic, a record-breaking number of Louisiana citizens have suffered job loss. In April, that number hit a record high of 15.1% of the Louisiana population. By June, that number still hovered around 9.7%. As a result, the government has offered several protections intended to aid Louisiana citizens, including protecting tenants.

Unfortunately, many landlords and tenants struggle to understand the new regulations and the impact they can have on them. Exactly what protections do you have under those laws? Consider how tenant rights have changed as a result of COVID-19 and what tenants can expect in terms of protections.

1. Tenants could not be evicted for nonpayment until July 25.

The federal government passed a ban on evictions, stating that tenants could not be evicted from a property for nonpayment until at least July 25. Trump is currently trying to extend that deadline, since many people are still suffering job uncertainty or decreased income as a result of the pandemic. Once served with eviction, tenants have 30 days to vacate the property.

The ban on eviction did not mean that landlords could not serve tenants with a Notice to Vacate, which let tenants know that they needed to move out of the property. However, since the courts closed down to help decrease the spread of COVID-19, landlords could not legally force tenants to leave the property until the ban on evictions ended.

In spite of the ban on evictions, tenants do still bear responsibility for paying all rent accrued during this period. While landlords cannot evict tenants immediately, tenants will still be responsible for paying their rent. Failure to pay rent during the pandemic can still result in eviction after that period ends.

2. Tenants in some types of properties had further protections.

Tenants in several properties could not be evicted, nor could late fees be charged, if tenants lived in certain specific properties. This included:

  • Section 8 housing
  • HUD-subsidized properties
  • Properties that receive Low Income Housing Tax Credits
  • Properties in which the landlord has a federal-backed mortgage

3. Tenants always have 30 days to vacate the property after an eviction notice.

If you receive an eviction notice for any reason, including inability to pay your rent now that the restrictions on evictions have expired, you have 30 days following that legal notice to vacate the property. You do not have to worry about packing up and leaving on the spot as soon as you have been served with an eviction notice. Thanks to that 30-day period, you will have time to find alternative housing and generate the income you need in order to pay your rent.

4. Tenants who live in income-based housing and lose a source of income should see a reduction in rent.

In income-based housing, tenants pay for their housing based on a percentage of their income, rather than having to pay the full amount usually charged for rent. The government subsidizes the rest of the cost of housing. If you live in income-based housing and suffered a decrease in your income due to COVID-19, either due to job loss or due to decreased hours as a result of the pandemic, you can apply to have your rent reduced, as well. This provision can help eliminate some of the financial burden faced by many people in the midst of the pandemic.

5. Landlords cannot forcibly evict tenants under any circumstances.

While landlords can serve a notice of eviction once the ban on evictions ends, they cannot forcibly evict tenants. In order to force an eviction, landlords must work with the police after filing a notice with Louisiana court. That means that landlords cannot:

  • Turn off utilities to the property in an effort to force tenants to move
  • Lock tenants out of the property
  • Forcibly remove a tenant’s possessions without the consent of the tenant

If your landlord attempts to forcibly evict you, you may have legal recourse. Contact an attorney as soon as possible to learn more about your legal rights.

What happens if I cannot afford to pay my rent due to income loss because of COVID-19?

Tenants are still responsible for paying rent, even in the face of COVID-19 job loss. While your landlord could not evict you because of failure to pay until the federal freeze on evictions runs out, many tenants are struggling now, as that restriction runs out. If you lost your job or suffered decreased income due to COVID-19, you may have options available.

First, talk to your landlord as soon as possible. Many landlords are willing to work with tenants as much as possible to help them manage during the pandemic. Talk to your landlord and let them know about your job loss as well as what you plan to do about it or any steps you have taken to secure income. Discuss what you can pay or when you think you may be able to pay.

Apply for unemployment as soon as possible. COVID-19 guidelines have changed the way people apply for unemployment and the people who can seek unemployment. Freelancers and self-employed individuals may have the right to unemployment benefits under COVID-19 relief provisions. Apply for unemployment as soon as possible to help increase your income and your ability to pay during this time.

Seek alternative housing if needed. If income restrictions continue and you cannot afford to pay your rent, make alternative housing arrangements as soon as possible. Your landlord may allow you to break your lease early if you are up front about your inability to pay.

If you feel that a landlord has violated your rights as a tenant, either due to normal tenant requirements or due to the new regulations associated with COVID-19, do not wait. Get in touch with an experienced attorney as soon as possible to learn more about your rights and work toward resolution. If you need an attorney experienced with New Orleans tenant rights, contact Stephenson, Chavarri & Dawson, L.L.C. at 504-523-6496 today.

You might think that drug possession isn’t that big of a deal, especially if you have a small amount for personal use. Yet, that is not the case. Drug possession is a crime and those arrested face charges for a felony or a misdemeanor. Possession of large amounts of controlled substances makes your situation even worse. The exact type of drug based on federal drug schedules, the amount you had in your possession, and host of other factors determine whether someone receives felony charges.

Like every other crime, felony charges carry much harsher penalties than misdemeanor charges. A conviction typically includes mandatory prison time, probation, and large fines. If you are facing a drug possession charge, it’s in your best interest to hire a criminal attorney to protect your rights and defend you. Until you understand exactly what is going on with your case, you might not know whether you face a misdemeanor or felony drug charge, or multiple charges. Below we offer an overview of the scenarios in which drug possession typically results in a felony charge in Louisiana.

Aggravating Factors Lead to Felony Drug Possession Charges

Simple drug possession charges in Louisiana carry a maximum prison sentence of five years and a maximum fine of $5,000. An arrest for simple drug possession is a misdemeanor, but in some circumstances, it is a felony. Lawyers and courts typically refer to these circumstances as aggravating factors. The most common aggravating factors under Louisiana law include:

Possession in a “Drug Free Zone”

Under Louisiana law, drug possession in a drug free zone is automatically a felony charge regardless of the type or amount of drug. You may not possess drugs on or within 2,000 feet of the following properties:

  • Schools, including any public or private K-12 school, vocational-technical school, or university
  • Drug treatment facilities
  • Religious buildings including churches, synagogues, and mosques, if posted
  • Public housing, if posted
  • Child daycare centers, if posted

Those who possess drugs in a drug-free zone as defined by Louisiana law face the maximum fine and the courts can impose up to one and half times the normal prison sentence.

Possession of the Date Rape Drug

Flunitrazepam, also known as Rohypnol, is used to treat insomnia and also aids with anesthesia. This drug has been around for decades and has earned the nickname “the date rape drug.” Possession of Rohypnol without a prescription and with the intent to commit a violent crime is automatically a felony charge in Louisiana. A conviction carries a fine up to $100,000 and up to 40 years in prison.

Repeat Drug Possession Offenses

Louisiana has what is commonly referred to as “The Three Strike Rule,” intended to deter people from committing multiple crimes. The third misdemeanor charge of any non-violent crime, including a misdemeanor drug possession, or the third felony charge can result in a felony charge that carries a minimum of 12 years in prison. Fortunately, the three strike rule mostly applies to felony charges, but depending on the situation it can apply to drug possession in Louisiana.

High Quantity of Certain Drugs

The federal government divides drugs into five categories of controlled substances, called schedules. Louisiana, like most states, incorporates these schedules into laws related to drug crimes.  Schedule I drug-related crimes typically carry the harshest penalties because they have no accepted medical use and have the highest potential for abuse. Some examples include heroin and LSD. Cannabis is also a Schedule I drug under federal and Louisiana law. Schedule II drugs do have medical applications, but they are highly addictive and can lead to physical and/or psychological dependence. Some examples of Schedule II drugs are cocaine and fentanyl.

Possessing certain amounts of Schedule I or Schedule II drugs result in a felony charge. Aside from the previously mentioned exception of Rohypnol, the possession of drugs from the other schedules typically do not result in a felony charge unless one of the previously listed aggravating factors applies. The quantities of Schedule I and II drugs that can lead to a felony possession charge are as follows:

  • Possession of 28 grams or more of a Schedule I drug besides cannabis and cannabis derivatives carries a minimum one-year prison sentence and a maximum sentence of 20 years and $50,000.
  • Possession of two and a half pounds or more of marijuana also carries a felony charge and the same penalties listed above.
  • Possession of 28 grams or more of a Schedule II drug also carries a minimum one-year prison sentence and a fine up to $50,000.

Possession with Intent to Sell or Distribute

The reason that higher quantities of drugs typically result in felony charges is that the government assumes you have an intent to sell or distribute the drugs. The logic is that why would a person need so much of one substance for personal use unless they were planning on selling the product. Even if you had a large quantity of Schedule I or Schedule II drugs, the state will likely push for a felony conviction on the grounds that you represent a danger to the community. Keep in mind that the intent to distribute is akin to a drug trafficking charge which can land you in prison for up to 40 years on top of fines up to $100,000 depending on the drug.

Protect Your Rights After a Drug Possession Charge in Louisiana

A drug possession charge has serious consequences in Louisiana, especially if you’ve been charged with a felony. Your best chance for getting charges dropped or reduced comes with hiring an experienced criminal defense attorney who knows Louisiana’s legal system and has experience with drug possession charges. The skilled legal team at Stephenson, Chávarri & Dawson have more than 50 years of combined experience representing those accused of drug crimes.  Contact us today online or at 504-523-6496 to discuss the circumstances of your drug possession charges and the best path forward for your situation.

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