What does a family do when someone dies unexpectedly with no last will and testament, no surviving spouse, no children or grandchildren, and no surviving parents?
This can be a stressful time for surviving family members. The first question that often gets answered is, "Who inherits from this person?" The second question that often gets answered is, "How do the heirs settle the estate and get the assets?"
When a Louisiana resident dies with no will, no descendants, no surviving parents, and no spouse, the deceased's estate will go the the deceased's brothers and sisters. If any of the deceased's brothers and sisters had died before the deceased, then the deceased sibling's children will represent the deceased sibling.
One of the first things to do in settling an estate like this is to have a judge appoint an Administrator of the Succession. In a matter like this, it would be common for one of the siblings to step up and ask to be appointed as the Administrator. If all of the heirs agree, it would be advisable for the sibling to ask to be appointed as the Independent Administrator, since less judicial supervision is required of an Independent Administrator. But remember, all of the heirs must sign an Agreement allowing the Administrator to be Independent.
Once a judge signs the court order appointing the Independent Administrator, the clerk of court will issue, "Letters of Independent Administration." This permits the Independent Administrator to open an estate account at a bank, and pool all of the deceased's funds from the deceased's frozen accounts into the estate account.
Once that is addressed, it is likely that the Independent Administrator would start selling estate assets, such as vehicles and real estate. Proceeds from the sale of these estate assets would be deposited by the Independent Administrator into the estate account.
In the meantime, the attorney for the Independent Administrator and the heirs will put together an inventory of assets and debts, often called a,"Sworn Detailed Descriptive List of Assets and Liabilities," showing estate assets and debts as of the date of death of the deceased. This inventory is submitted into the court record for judicial review and oversight.
Finally, after expenses and debts are paid, a judge may sign a "Judgment of Possession," a court order ordering that remaining estate assets be disbursed to the appropriate heirs in the appropriate proportions. The Independent Administrator may withhold some funds for unexpected expenses and final income tax return preparation.
A few comments regarding matters like this:
(1) If the assets of the deceased totaled less than $125,000 in value, they should consider using Louisiana's Small Succession Affidavit Procedure;
(2) Perhaps the deceased's wishes could have been better expressed in a last will and testament, which would name an executor, and designate heirs.
(3) Perhaps the deceased could have created a revocable living trust, designating a Successor Trustee and trust beneficiaries, so that the settlement of the trust and estate could have taken place without attorney involvement and government intervention.
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Louisiana Estate Planning Attorney
Phone: (225) 329-2450