Simple answers to common questions regarding successions in Louisiana
What is a Succession?
A "succession" is a legal process for wrapping up the financial affairs of a deceased person (decedent). Generally, the process involves identifying and gathering the assets of the decedent, paying the debts of the decedent, and then distributing the decedent's assets to his or her beneficiaries. The succession/probate process is used to pass ownership of the decedent's assets to his or her beneficiaries. If the decedent left a valid Last Will and Testament, it will need to be presented to a court to be probated so that the persons named as beneficiaries can legally obtain ownership of the property which was left to them. If the decedent had no will, Louisiana law provides default rules as to who inherits from the decedent and who ownership will be passed to in connection with the succession.
What is a Will?
A "will" is a written document, signed by the decedent that meets the requirements of Louisiana law that provides what the decedent's last wishes are regarding the handling of his or her property after death. The decedent can name the beneficiaries whom the decedent wants to receive the decedent's estate assets. The decedent may also designate a person to handle the succession, known as an "executor." If the decedent did not have a valid will, or if the will fails in some respect, the persons who will receive the decedent's assets, and who will handle the estate, will be as provided by Louisiana law. What if there is no Will? If someone dies without a valid will, the succession is known as an "intestate" succession. Under these circumstances, Louisiana has default rules as to who inherits decedent's assets. In the absence of a valid will, separate property will transfer to children, then to siblings, then to parents, and then to surviving spouse.
What are Spouse's rights?
In the event a decedent dies without a valid will while married, Louisiana law provides different treatment for what happens to assets that are "community property" and those assets that are "separate property" of the decedent. Generally, community property assets are things that were acquired during the marriage of the decedent and his or her spouse that jointly belong to the decedent and his or her spouse. Those assets which are not community property are considered separate property assets of the decedent. If the decedent did not have any children, his or her spouse inherits all of decedent's community property. However, if the deceased spouse is survived by children, the surviving spouse receives only a right to use (usufruct) the community property until his or her death or remarriage, whichever occurs first. The ownership of the community property goes to the decedent's children subject to the usufruct.
What if there are Bills?
Many heirs are often worried as to whether they will be personally responsible for the debts and unpaid bills of the decedent. The answer to this question depends on many factors, the most important of which is making sure the succession is properly handled. When the decedent leaves unpaid bills behind, in most cases it is advisable to place the succession under "administration." Placing the succession under administration, allows for an orderly process to take place in which all of the decedent's unpaid obligations are identified, and if necessary assets of the estate are sold to obtain cash to pay off these obligations. Once all of the obligations are satisfied, the ownership of any remaining assets can be transferred to the heirs. If properly handled, the heirs receive their inheritance without liability to the decedent's creditors.
What should I do FIRST if someone close to me has died?
It is important when a loved one passes away to immediately start collecting and preserving the information that will be necessary to handle the succession. This consists of information about the decedent such as: the date of death, where decedent lived when he/she died, whether a valid will was executed before death, who the decedent's heirs or legatees are, what property and liabilities did the decedent leave behind. Start by collecting all of the decedent's mail after death in order to obtain all of the bills and bank statements that are received. You should notify all banks and financial institutions that the person has passed away in order to protect against any unauthorized transactions being processed through the decedent's accounts. Any unnecessary services such phone, mobile, cable and other unneeded services should be cancelled. If the decedent owned a home, it is important to secure the home. This includes possibly changing the locks to the home if there is any risk that family members or others may try to access the home before the succession can be conducted. If the decedent died "testate", it is important to also secure the original Last Will and Testament. A copy of the will is not typically permitted to be probated as it is presumed that the decedent destroyed the original will and revoked it in the event the original cannot be found.
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