Which Assets Require a Louisiana Succession?

Only certain assets that you own require the Louisiana Succession procedure to transfer them to your heirs. That's why people say that there are "Probate Assets" and "Nonprobate Assets."

Probate assets are assets that you own that cannot be transferred at death without a court-supervised probate proceeding. Real estate is a common probate asset. Even when a spouse dies, that spouse's ownership interest in the home must be transferred pursuant to a Succession proceeding. Some states allow you to title your real estate so that it automatically goes to your spouse when you die outside of probate - but Louisiana is not one of the states that permits this. Also, if you own an undivided interest in real estate when you die, your undivided interest (for example, a 25% interest that you own along with three siblings) must be transferred to your heirs pursuant to the Succession procedure.

Another probate asset is investments - stocks, bonds, and mutual funds that you own in your name. Securities laws require that investment accounts in your name be frozen when you die. No one will be able to access these funds or investments without the appropriate court orders. Again, some national investment companies allow you and your spouse to title investment accounts with designations such as Joint Tenants With Rights of Survivorship (JTWROS), but the problem is that the State of Louisiana does not recognize this as a form of ownership. In Louisiana, all assets are either separate property or community property - regardless of how titled. This causes confusion among heirs, brokerage firms, and others.

Small businesses are another probate asset. Many people own membership interests in limited liability companies (LLCs), or they own shares in a closely held corporation, or maybe even a partnership interest. Your probate will be required when you die to transfer your small business interest to your heirs.

Bank accounts can be tricky when it comes to probate. If you have an individual bank account in your name only, it will be frozen when you die and a Succession will be required to gain access to the funds. But some people add signers to their bank accounts, or they make a Payable On Death (POD) designation, which allows banks to release funds to another party outside of probate. Check with your attorney and your bank or credit union regarding whether a Succession will be necessary to gain access to bank or credit union funds.

Typical nonprobate assets include IRAs, life insurance, annuities, and other retirement accounts that allow you to designate a beneficiary. For example, Dad died leaving an individual retirement account (IRA). Dad had named Mom as the beneficiary. After Dad dies, Mom can produce a death certificate to the financial institution where the iRA is held, and the financial institution will transfer Dad's IRA into Mom's IRA - outside of courts, lawyers, judges, and the judicial system.  Note that, however, if "The Estate"  is the beneficiary, then those funds must be part of the Succession and will require a Succession proceeding to access those funds.

Non-titled personal items often are passed to family members outside of the formal judicial proceeding. Because Dad's gun and Mom's jewelry are not titled in anyone's name when Dad and Mom die, it is common for surviving family members to deal with these non-titled personal effects outside of the formal judicial process.