While almost everyone recognizes the importance of having an estate plan, far too few Louisianans take the right steps to prepare for the inevitable. When Bayou State residents die without a will or trust, neither they nor their loved ones can control how their estate will be divided. Instead, the court will apportion the estate and the deceased person’s community property according to the Probate Code’s intestacy laws, which privilege surviving spouses and other close relations.
Louisiana’s Rules for Intestate Community Property
Louisiana is a community property state. Under Louisiana’s community property laws, most assets acquired during the course of a marriage are considered the jointly owned community property of both spouses.
During an intestate succession, how community property is distributed is largely dependent on whether the decedent and their surviving spouse had any children or other living descendants. Under most circumstances, “descendants” refers to the deceased person’s children.
Surviving Spouse but No Descendants
If the deceased person, or decedent, was married at the time of their death but had no children, their spouse will inherit all of the decedent’s separate property and community property.
Surviving Spouse and Descendants
If the decedent has a surviving spouse and living descendants, one-half of their community property will be inherited by their spouse, and the remaining assets will be distributed to their descendants.
For surviving spouses, this does not necessarily mean that the inheriting descendants will be afforded immediate, uncontestable access to the other one-half of the decedent’s estate. Louisiana law entitles surviving spouses to a “usufruct interest” in the community property, meaning they are entitled to continued use of and access to the community property until they either die or remarry.
Potential Problems in Intestate Community Property Successions
While Louisiana might have a well-defined process for an intestate succession of community property, prospective heirs may disagree on what should be considered community property and what should be considered separate property.
The following types of customarily community properties could be construed as separate property:
- A home or other real property, if the property was purchased before marriage, but both spouses contributed to the mortgage
- A motor vehicle purchased by a parent and gifted to the deceased spouse
- An investment account, stock portfolio, or trust fund previously inherited by the decedent
While there are often clear-cut solutions to questions about whether an asset should be considered the deceased spouse’s separate property or community property, estate contests and probate litigation always have the potential to delay succession, preventing creditors from getting paid and heirs from receiving their inheritances.
How a Louisiana Succession Attorney Can Help You Close an Intestate Estate
Small estate successions can sometimes be effectively administered by the court-approved executor, especially when the decedent’s surviving spouse and living descendants are on good terms and agree on how the deceased person’s assets should be distributed.
However, successions do not always go as planned. A Louisiana probate attorney could help you close a loved one’s estate by:
- Acting as the estate executor—initiating the succession and notifying creditors and heirs that proceedings have begun
- Inventorying and responsibly managing the decedent’s estate
- Defending the estate against unwarranted or unfair creditor claims
- Acting as an intermediary between heirs
- Resolving disputes between beneficiaries
Since probate is a time-sensitive process subject to an assortment of strict deadlines, consulting an attorney helps ensure that your loved one’s estate is quickly and amicably settled.
Contact Scott Vicknair Law Today
In recent years, Louisiana has taken great strides to provide families with simple alternatives to traditional, time-consuming succession proceedings. However, intestate successions are bound by strict laws, making it all the more difficult for heirs to make their voices heard.
Scott Vicknair Law has spent decades protecting the legacies of Louisiana residents and fighting to ensure that their loved ones receive the inheritance they deserve. If you need assistance managing an intestate succession, please call us at 504-264-1057 to get started.