Intestate successions are often complicated. If a relative dies without a will, the relative's property must be distributed according to Louisiana's intestacy laws. Intestate succession laws explain who inherits even in the most complex situations.
How Property Is Distributed If All Heirs Are Living
Louisiana law sets out specific rules about what happens to someone's property if they die without a will. Generally, if a person is married and has children, the children and surviving spouse become co-owners of the defendant's share of community property. If the person dies without children, the spouse may inherit all of the community property.
The decedent's separate property usually passes to groups, or classes, of potential heirs in the following order:
- Descendants (children first, or if there are no surviving children, then grandchildren, etc.)
- Parents and siblings
- Surviving spouse
- Ascendants other than parents (such as aunts and uncles)
- More distant relatives
There is often more than one heir in each group, and the heirs at each level share equally in the intestate estate. However, sometimes one of the heirs dies before the person whose estate is being distributed.
When an Heir Predeceases the Person Whose Estate Is Being Settled
Louisiana law creates a "fiction of the law" to put a representative in the place of the heir who died before they could inherit property. This fiction of the law is known as representation.
Representation does not apply to ascendants in a Louisiana succession. For example, Louisiana law allows parents to inherit by intestate succession. However, if the parent predeceases the child whose estate is being settled through intestate succession, the parent's surviving children do not inherit the parent's share as representatives of the parent.
Instead, representation only applies to descendants (children or grandchildren) and collaterals (siblings) of the person who died intestate. If a descendant or collateral dies before the intestate relative, their descendants may inherit through representation.
Here are some examples of how representation works in Louisiana:
- A person had three siblings. When the person died, the person had two living siblings and one predeceased sibling. Louisiana intestate laws allow the person's siblings to inherit property. According to the law of representation, the sibling's share should still be divided into three equal parts. Each surviving sibling inherits one-third of the sibling share. The remaining one-third of the sibling share goes to the deceased sibling's children (or grandchildren). The one-third share that passes through representation should be divided equally among the deceased sibling's children.
- A parent had two children. Child A had two children and child B had two children. Since the parent died without a will, both children have the right to inherit through an intestate succession in equal shares. However, Child A died before the parent, and Child B survived the parent. In this case, Child B inherits 50% of the children's share, and Child A's children inherit 50% of the children's share in equal amounts. Child B's children do not inherit directly from their grandparent because their parent is still alive at the time of the grandparent's death.
While these rules may seem complicated, they become even more complex in situations where there are half-siblings, children born outside of marriage, or families who disagree on who should be an heir in the Louisiana succession case.
Protect Your Rights During an Intestate Succession
You need to know your rights, so you can ensure that all potential heirs are treated fairly according to Louisiana intestate law. It may be especially difficult to determine who should get what when you are mourning the loss of a loved one and when your relatives disagree about how property should be distributed.
Our New Orleans succession lawyers are here to help you every step of the way. Each year, we help hundreds of families throughout Louisiana resolve difficult issues cost-efficiently and with as little stress as possible. Learn more about how we may be able to help you by contacting us today.