Will and trust

New Orleans Wills and Successions Lawyers

Helping families in New Orleans when a loved one dies

James Gramham Law Offices Rule

The term “succession” (called probate in other states) refers to the distribution of property after the passing of an individual. After being appointed by a Judge, a succession representative must collect and manage the decedent’s assets, pay debts and taxes, and distribute the remaining property to heirs and beneficiaries. The representative is also responsible for presenting any wills to the court and submitting a plan to the Judge for concluding the succession.

Navigating the process can be emotional and very trying. At the Law Office of James A. Graham, we’ll guide you step-by-step through the succession process. We can assist you with the crafting of a will, creating powers of attorney, or with the distribution of assets. We can also represent you in the event of a will contest. Contact our attorneys in New Orleans today to learn more.

What is a will?

James Gramham Law Offices Rule

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, identifies beneficiaries, and who will handle the successions (“executor”). Wills may also be used to designate guardians for minor children and for other purposes.

If the decedent left a valid Last Will and Testament (“testate”), it will need to be presented to a court so that the persons named as beneficiaries can legally obtain ownership of the property which was left to them.

What happens if there is no will?

If someone dies without a valid will, the succession is known as an “intestate” succession, and the succession representative will be referred to as the administrator. 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.

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How is the decedent’s estate distributed in New Orleans?

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The distribution of probate property depends on the presence of a valid will. A valid will can distribute property however the decedent would like, except for forced heirs. Although forced heirs are required to receive a portion of the estate, a valid will can give the surviving spouse a lifetime “usufruct” (a person’s right to property that is granted by someone else) over the forced portion. The usufruct allows the surviving spouse to use the property without owning it.

If the decedent did not leave a valid will, his or her property will be distributed according to Louisiana intestate laws, which may benefit surviving children, spouses, parents, and siblings.

What rights does the spouse of the decedent have in New Orleans?

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 is a forced heir?

In Louisiana, some heirs are essentially given a priority because of their age and other factors. Forced heirs include the following.

  • Children under 24 years of age at the time of the decedent's passing and children with permanent disabilities are considered forced heirs.
  • Grandchildren of the decedent can also be forced heirs if their parent would have been under the age of 24 or permanently incapacitated at the time of their grandparents’ passing.

The amount the heirs will receive is called the "forced portion" or "legitime" and depends on the number of forced heirs and the size of the estate. If there is one forced heir, he or she will receive one-quarter of the estate. Multiple forced heirs will share half of the estate equally.

What should I do when someone close to me dies?

It is important when a loved one passes away to immediately start collecting and preserving all information that is needed to handle the succession. Our New Orleans wills and succession lawyers will answer all your questions and explain what steps the representative (executor or administrator) should take.

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 he/she 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.

Will I be responsible for my loved one’s debts?

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.

What are some of the legal terms used to manage and distribute an estate in New Orleans?

A few common wills and succession definitions are:

  • Succession:The legal process by which property is transferred from a decedent to the heirs.
  • Estate:The term used to describe the assets and liabilities that someone has when he/she dies.
  • Decedent:The term for the person who has passed away.
  • Probate:The process of presenting a Last Will & Testament to a court to be recognized.
  • Testate:The term for the type of succession when the decedent has a Last Will & Testament.
  • Intestate:The term for the type of succession when the decedent did not have a Last Will & Testament.
  • Heir:The term for the person who inherits from the decedent in an intestate succession.
  • Legatee:The term for the person who inherits from the decedent in a testate succession.
  • Executor:The term for the person who the court approves to handle a testate succession.
  • Administrator:The term for the person who the court approves to handle an intestate succession.

Do you have a wills and successions lawyer near me?

The Law Office of James A. Graham is located in New Orleans and serves all of South Louisiana.

For clients who are unable to travel, we can schedule phone or video conferences when needed.

Call our experienced New Orleans wills and succession lawyers today

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 here for you. He is a caring, seasoned wills and succession lawyer who believes that his business is built on strong personal relationships with clients. To learn how to handle a loved one’s estate and ensure the correct people receive the correct assets, call us in New Orleans or complete our contact form to schedule an appointment.