What Are the Steps Involved in a Louisiana Probate?

It's always a tough question for me to answer when someone asks, "What are the steps involved in a Louisiana probate?"

Every probate in Louisiana is different, based on the procedure and the complexity and the assets and debts that are involved.  The way a probate evolves can vary based on the parties that are involved and the relationships of those parties. The probate can vary based on whether a last will and testament exists, and, if so, the relevant terms of the last will and testament. So, again, there is going to be a probate "no matter what" if assets are in the name of the person who died, but the Will or lack of a Will often dictates the direction that the probate must take.

The following is a "typical" scenario that we see in many Louisiana Successions, but realize that your particular situation can be very different. 

(1) Hire Attorney and Develop a Plan. This is where all of the parties retain an attorney to guide the family through the court proceeding. It's a good idea at this point to have an initial plan that gets communicated to everyone regarding all of the steps that are necessary to complete the Louisiana probate.

(2) Get the Executor Confirmed. Court petitions get prepared and executed whereby the executor petitions a court to "probate the Will" and confirm the executor. The term "probate" is often misused. Most people prefer to use the term "probate" as the entire court-supervised proceeding from start to finish. But technically, when a judge "probates" a Will, the judge is confirming that the Will is a valid will under Louisiana law. Nonetheless, a judge typically signs a court order after this confirming the executor's status, and then the court order is processed so that the clerk of court of the proper parish issues "Letters of Independent Executorship," which lets banks, title examiners, and other third parties know that the executor may now act on behalf of the estate.

(3) Estate Account(s). Now that the executor has the authority to act on behalf of the estate - because he or she has been confirmed by the court as the executor (or, in many cases referred to as the "independent executor"), the executor may open an estate account or multiple estate accounts so that funds and other investments and financial accounts can be collected into the estate account.

(4) Accountings. The executor, the family, the participants, and the attorneys work together to prepare a Detailed List of Assets and Debts that the deceased has when he or she died. In addition, the executor may be required to have the attorneys prepare an accounting showing the court and heirs how the executor handled estate funds after the death of the deceased.

(5) Judgment of Possession. Once the estate has been administered and all of the above has been accomplished, the attorney will prepare a final petition to the court ( all of the heirs must sign off on this), requesting that the proper judge sign a court order (referred to as a "Judgment of Possession"), whereby the judge orders the executor and third parties to disburse assets to the heirs in the proper proportions, after all taxes, costs, and other administrative expenses have been paid.

(6) Distribution. Once the judge signs this Judgment, there is a process whereby each asset must be transferred to disbursed to the heirs. Copies of these Judgements are often filed in the real estate records of the parish where the deceased owned real estate - this is what conveys ownership of the real estate to the heirs. 

Again, the emphasis here that needs to be made is that each Louisiana probate is different, and even the best of plans that are made at the beginning often change due to the fact that new information gets discovered, or relationships turn sour, during the course of this court-supervised probate process. 

Also know that by planning ahead the right way with an estate legal program, you can arrange your legal affairs so that your family and heirs can completely avoid having to go through this.