How is Louisiana Estate Planning Law Different From Other States? How Does the Napoleonic Code Affect Louisiana Law?

Most "outside of Louisiana" estate planning attorneys know enough to know that estate planning law in Louisiana is "different," but they don't really know how. Attorneys that are outside of Louisiana typically tell their clients that Louisiana follows the Napoleonic Code, and that they must seek out at attorney in Louisiana to guide them through their estate planning issues.

The purpose of this post is to dig a little describe and describe a few of the specific differences between Louisiana estate planning law and the estate planning law of the other 49 states. What follows is a description of three differences of Louisiana estate planning law:

(1) Usufruct. Louisiana is the only state that recognizes a form of ownership called usufruct. Usufruct is super common in Louisiana because when a Louisiana married person (with children) dies without a last will and testament, their surviving spouse inherits the usufruct of their one-half of the community property. In addition, some people, in their last will and testament, specifically bequeath the usufruct of their estate (or some portion of it) to their surviving spouse. 

(2) Forced Heirship. Louisiana forced heirship law is unique. While the forced heirship law has been watered down over the last 2-3 decades, it generally means that certain children must inherit from you - you cannot disinherit them.

(3) No TOD or JTWROS. In other states, many people titled their accounts or their real estate in a way so that ownership is transferrred to others at their death outside of the court-supervised probate proceeding. But Louisiana does not recognize these titles, forms of ownership, or designations. When someone, in Louisiana, happens to title an investment account JTWROS (Joint Tenants with Rights of Survivorship), the account (or at a minimum, their portion of the account), will be frozen when they die and court orders must be obtained in a probate proceeding before ownership can be transferred to the appropriate heir (which may or may not be the person listed on the account as the "Joint Tenant."

If there is any state in our United States where you must have an attorney well-versed in state-specific law, it is Louisiana. Many other state law differences exist, but this post should start to give you an idea of a few estate planning issues that can confuse people as they start the process of putting their customized and thorough estate planning program in order.

This post is for informational purposes only and does not provide legal advice. Please do not act or refrain from acting based on anything you read on this site. Using this site or communicating with Rabalais Estate Planning, LLC, through this site does not form an attorney/client relationship.

Paul Rabalais
Louisiana Estate Planning Attorney
Phone: (225) 329-2450