Napoleon Bonaparte accomplished a lot of things. He was an emperor, a prolific military leader and even the namesake for a popular dessert. For residents of Louisiana, one of Napoleon’s most important contributions would be that of the Napoleonic Code.
Louisiana’s system of law is based on the Napoleonic Code. It’s one of the things that give Louisiana its unique culture. Unfortunately, this system of law might also confuse residents and non-residents. One such example of this confusion is the principal of “forced heirship.”
The concept of forced heirship is inherited from a concept of law dating back to the French Revolution. The belief was that by forcing parents to distribute their estates among their children, the accumulation of wealth by the ruling class would be prevented. Currently in Louisiana, the principal of forced heirship mandates that a certain portion of your estate must be reserved for those qualifying as forced heirs. This is what is called a “forced portion.” A forced heir is a child who is under the age of twenty-four at the time of your death or a child who is permanently incapacitated. Under certain circumstances, a grandchild may also be considered to be a forced heir.
While the concept of forced heirship was designed for the protection of one’s descendants, there has been some criticism of its practice. Some believe that a person should be free to give their property to anyone when they die. While forced heirship is mandated by law, there are a few ways to get around it.
One such way is to invest in life insurance. Unless specifically designated on your policy, life insurance is not paid to your estate but rather to the beneficiary who you name in the policy. In Louisiana, life insurance polices are completely free from forced heirship laws. Alternatively, life insurance proceeds may be counted as part of the forced portion of your estate. With an adequate amount of life insurance you can pay off a forced heir and dispose of the rest of your estate according to your wishes.
The second way to avoid forced heirship laws are with qualified retirement plans such as employer and employee retirement contributions, IRAs, 401 (k)s and Keogh Plans. As with life insurance policies, the amount paid by these plans can be applied to the forced portion if you want.
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