When Beneficiaries Die Before Probate
A last will and testament is a legal document to ensure that an estate does not pass into intestacy proceedings. Those who die without a valid will or other estate plan are said to have died “intestate.” Louisiana, like most other states, has a special set of rules for the distribution of intestate assets. These rules typically privilege close living relatives, such as a surviving spouse, children, or parents.
However, last wills and testaments have critical limitations. Unless the will designates residual beneficiaries—people who will inherit certain assets if the primary heir passes away before probate is completed—a deceased beneficiary’s inheritance may be lost.
Intestate Successions in Louisiana
Louisiana does not have an “anti-lapse” law. A lapse occurs when a beneficiary cited in the will dies before the testator dies, and the gift to that beneficiary has no one to go to. If this happens, the deceased heir’s gift will be treated as an intestate asset and disbursed according to the Bayou State’s intestacy statutes.
If someone dies intestate and is survived by a spouse and children, their community property will typically be distributed co-equally to them.
However, a decedent’s separate property will be given to heirs in the following order:
- Parents and siblings
- Surviving spouse
- Ascendants other than parents, such as surviving grandparents
While the death of a single heir will not thrust the entire estate into intestacy, the deceased heir’s inherited assets may be redistributed in accordance with Louisiana’s intestacy statutes.
Non-Probate Assets and Complex Inheritances
Some assets, especially assets that have built-in “beneficiary designations,” are typically exempt from probate. Non-probate assets can include:
- Payable-on-death accounts (PODs)
- Transfer-on-death accounts (TODs)
- Bank accounts with POD or TOD designations
- Retirement saving accounts
- Life insurance policies
Ordinarily, accounts with beneficiary designations may be transferred to the named beneficiary without the need for probate. However, if the beneficiary dies before their inheritance can be transferred, the assets may be distributed as:
- Community property, if the deceased account holder has a surviving spouse or children.
- Separate property, if the deceased account holder does not have a surviving spouse or children. If the assets are considered separate property, they may return to the estate and be distributed as intestate assets.
Protecting Your Estate From Unexpected Intestacy
Intestacy effectively prevents Louisianans from making informed decisions about how they would like their assets handled and distributed after their death.
An experienced Louisiana estate planning attorney could help preserve your legacy by:
- Regularly reviewing and revising your estate plan as needed
- Incorporating residual beneficiaries and alternates into your last will and testament
- Keeping your beneficiary designations up to date
- Discussing how you could benefit from the establishment of a revocable living trust, which may negate the need for probate in its entirety
Contact an Experienced Louisiana Succession Attorney
While an estate plan is an important part of ensuring your legacy, far too few Americans create one. While a last will and testament could provide the veneer of protection against intestacy, a will only serves its intended purpose when it remains up to date and is used in accordance with more advanced estate planning strategies. Call Scott Vicknair Law at 504-264-1057 to speak to a legal professional, and schedule your initial consultation as soon as possible.