Few people are able to live their lives completely debt-free. Often, people die still owing money to creditors or without enough money to cover funeral, burial, and estate administration costs. Many of these debts must be paid by someone else after a person dies. If your loved one has died, you may wonder if you could be the one left paying your loved one’s debts.
What Are Succession Debts?
The first step in identifying whether you may have to pay the debts of someone who died (the decedent) is to determine how Louisiana law defines succession debts.
According to Article 1415 of the Louisiana Civil Code, succession debts include the:
- Decedent’s debts. The decedent’s debts include debts that the decedent had prior to death and financial obligations that were incurred because of death. For example, a decedent’s debts may include mortgages, car loans, credit card debt, medical bills, funeral costs, and burial costs. If the decedent was married and any of the debts are community property, then only 50% of the community property debts belong to the estate. For example, if the decedent was married and held a mortgage with their spouse, only 50% of the mortgage is a succession debt. The other 50% of the mortgage remains the financial and legal responsibility of the surviving spouse.
- Administration expenses. Administration expenses include fees owed to the executor or administrator of the estate, succession filing fees, succession attorney’s fees, and other expenses related to the collection, preservation, management, or distribution of the decedent’s estate.
Who Has to Pay Succession Debts?
Louisiana law recognizes two types of successors, including:
- Universal successors. Universal successors may be heirs or legatees and may inherit property through someone’s estate plan or through Louisiana’s laws of intestacy. Either way, a universal successor has all of the rights and all of the obligations of the deceased person with regard to the property the universal successor receives through the succession process. In other words, a universal successor is responsible for the debts related to succession property.
- Particular successors. Particular successors only have rights to the specific property left to them by the person who died, and they take ownership and possession of the specific property in their own right. According to Louisiana law, particular successors are not liable for succession debts.
If there are multiple universal successors, they should share in the payment of debts. Louisiana Civil Code Article 1371 provides that in order to equalize shares, the universal successors who take the largest amount of assets should also pay the largest portion of debts.
The obligation to pay succession debts may worry you if you stand to inherit property in Louisiana. You don’t want to be financially worse off after the succession than you are now. You don’t need to worry, however. Louisiana Civil Code Article 1416 specifically protects you from this situation. According to this section of Louisiana law, you are only obligated to pay debts from the property that you inherit as that property is valued at the time of receipt. You do not have to use your other assets, earnings, or inheritances to pay succession debts.
Make Sure Your Inheritance Rights Are Protected
It is as important to understand how to identify succession debts as it is to understand how to value succession assets. An accurate succession valuation and a correct assessment of your rights as a potential heir or legatee are essential.
Our experienced Louisiana succession and probate lawyers help hundreds of families throughout Louisiana each year. We are committed to honoring the wishes of Louisiana decedents by making sure that heirs and successors are treated fairly.
An estate with debts can be particularly complicated, and our legal team is here to help you. Call us anytime, or fill our online contact form to learn about cost-effective and stress-free ways to protect your inheritance rights after a loved one’s death.