Property is much more than just real estate. It includes everything that is owned by the person who died (the decedent), including personal belongings, bank accounts, stocks, retirement accounts, homes, and businesses.
When someone dies without a will in Louisiana, their property is distributed according to the state’s intestacy laws. However, before you can determine who is entitled to the property according to Louisiana’s laws of intestacy, all of the decedent’s property must be classified as community property or separate property.
Community Property and Separate Property
Louisiana is a community property state. Louisiana’s community property laws only apply to married couples who live in Louisiana when one spouse dies. Where the marriage occurred and where the couple may have lived during earlier periods of their marriage are irrelevant for purposes of classifying property as community or separate property.
A couple may begin acquiring community property when they are married and stop acquiring community property when the first spouse dies or the couple divorces. When a couple divorces, community property becomes separate property as part of the final divorce agreement.
If your loved one was not legally married at the time of death, there is no community property, and all of your loved one’s property is separate property. However, if your loved one was married at the time of death, all of your loved one’s property must be classified as community property or separate property.
Community property generally includes property acquired during marriage, except for gifts or inheritances that were explicitly given to just one spouse.
More specifically, community property includes:
- Any property acquired during marriage, regardless of how that property is paid for
- Gifts or inheritances that were given to both spouses jointly
- Appreciation in value, dividends, or other income from community property or from separate property
- Compensation for damages to community property
Prenuptial agreements or matrimonial agreements can change how community property is classified.
Each spouse owns one half of each piece of community property. Thus, one half of the community property would pass according to Louisiana’s intestacy laws, and one half of the community property would remain the property of the surviving spouse. Anything that is not community property is separate property.
Separate property may include things such as:
- Property acquired by a spouse before marriage
- Gifts or inheritances that are given to one spouse individually and not to the married couple, even if this occurs during marriage
- Property that one spouse purchases during marriage, if the purchase is primarily funded by separate property and any community property used for the purchase is insignificant compared to the amount of separate property used for the purchase
- Compensation for any personal injury suffered by one spouse during the marriage
Let an Experienced Lawyer Classify Property for You
Classifying property for purposes of intestacy can be tricky, and many cases present specific complications. For example, retirement accounts are often difficult to classify as community or separate property.
Additionally, classifying property as community property or separate property is only one step in the process of distributing someone’s assets in a Louisiana succession case. Once you classify the property, it must still be distributed.
Our experienced Louisiana succession lawyers help hundreds of families across the state with succession cases every year, and we can help you with yours. We will work hard to make sure that your loved one’s estate is handled correctly and that you experience as little stress as possible during this already difficult time in your life. Our goal is to make the succession process as easy and cost-effective as possible for all of our clients.
Contact us today by phone or through this website to get started.