Frequently Asked Questions

Wills & Successions in Louisiana Frequently Asked Questions What Is a Succession?

A “succession” is the legal process for wrapping up the financial affairs of a deceased person (decedent). Generally, the process involves identifying and gathering the assets of the deceased, paying the debts of the deceased, and then allocating the decedent’s assets to his or her beneficiaries.

The succession/probate process is used to pass ownership of the deceased’s assets to his or her beneficiaries. If the decedent left a valid Last Will and Testament (“testate”), 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 (“intestate”), 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 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 all information that is needed to handle the succession. You may need the following information about the decedent:

  • When the decedent died (date),
  • Who the decedent’s heirs or legatees are,
  • What was the decedent’s last legal address (where they lived),
  • Whether there was a valid will executed before death,
  • What property and liabilities did the decedent leave behind.

Start by collecting all the decedent’s mail after death to obtain all the bills and bank statements that are received. You, or the executor, should notify all banks and financial institutions that the person has passed away to protect against any unauthorized transactions being processed through the decedent’s accounts. You can cancel all services like phone, mobile, cable and other unneeded services.

It is important to secure the home if the deceased own one. 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 deceased died “testate” (with a valid will), it is important to also secure the original Last Will and Testament. A copy of the will is not always acceptable in the courts.

What Is a Will?

A “will” is a written document, signed by the decedent that meets the requirements of Louisiana law that defines the decedent’s last wishes regarding the handling of his or her property after death, beneficiaries, and who will handle the successions (“executor”).

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, decedent’s property will be transferred to decedent’s:

  • Children, if none then to
  • Parents, if none then to
  • Brothers and Sisters; if none then to
  • Spouse

Louisiana law also recognizes what is known as “representation.” Under “representation,” if the decedent had a child who died prior to decedent, the child’s children (decedent’s grandchildren) will inherit from decedent in place of their father or mother who was the child of decedent. “Representation” also occurs in favor of the children of decedent’s brothers and sisters.

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 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 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.

Get Guidance from an Experience, Caring Louisiana Attorney

Losing a loved one is difficult, and dealing with succession while you are still grieving can make the process even more challenging. James A Graham is there for you. He is a caring attorney who believes that his business is built on strong personal relationships with clients in St. Tammany and Orleans Parish. To learn more about your options and obligations, take advantage of our free consultation today by contacting us at 985.202.8110 or email us at info@jamesgrahamlaw.com.

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