Baton Rouge Succession attorney

Why the Louisiana Succession Doesn't Ever Get Done...And How to Make Sure Yours Does Get Done

Two reasons estates don't get settled are (1) the survivors are unaware of the need to complete the probate (in Louisiana we call it a "Succession"); and (2) at least one of the participants is not cooperative.

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It is not uncommon for someone to pass away leaving survivors, and those survivors are unaware of the need to complete the probate of the deceased family member. For example, let's day Dad dies. Dad and Mom had purchased a home 35 years earlier. After Dad dies, Mom decides to continue living in their home. Mom has access to all of the joint bank accounts, and Mom was the designated beneficiary of Dad's IRA. She doesn't even think about seeing a lawyer to complete a Succession. Years later, Mom wants and needs to move into an assisted living facility. She decides to sell the home to help cover the expenses of moving and living in the assisted living facility. She puts the house up for sale, finds a buyer, and signs a purchase agreement. The buyer's title attorney conducts a title examination and discovers the home is still in the names of both Dad and Mom. The buyer's title attorney says, "No sale will take place until Dad's probate is complete!" So the sale is suspended, or perhaps worse, the buyer backs out of the sale.

We often see surviving family members unaware of the need to complete a Succession after their loved one dies. Perhaps the deceased owned a rental property and the family merely continued to collect rent from a tenant but never went through the Louisiana Succession to get the title transferred. Perhaps the deceased had owned a one-third undivided interest in family property, with her two siblings, and no one bothered to include that as a Succession asset after she died. Perhaps the deceased owned real estate out of state, and the Louisiana Succession does not transfer any of the real estate owned in the name of the Louisiana resident.

So there are many circumstances where surviving family members are unaware of the need to complete a Louisiana Succession after the death of a loved one. And when they finally uncover that need years later, it is more complicated because there is urgency, or perhaps an heir of the deceased passed away in the interim, making more probates necessary.

A second, and perhaps more frustrating, reason estates don't get settled, is when one or more of the participants is uncooperative. Neither the executor acting alone, or a majority of the heirs, can complete a Louisiana Succession by themselves.

In order to transfer assets of the decease to the heirs, a judge must sign a court order ordering third parties to transfer assets out of the name of the deceased, and into the names of the heirs. A judge will not sign the necessary court order until ALL OF THE PARTIES sign off on the petition requesting the judge to sign the order (this order is referred to as a "Judgment of Possession").

Sometimes a participant will refuse to sign the necessary paperwork - sometimes for valid reasons and sometimes for petty reasons. Nonetheless, one participant refusing to fully cooperation will stop an estate settlement in its tracks.

So what's the Solution? Twofold:

(1) On the planning side, particularly if you anticipate relationship issues among your heirs, establish an estate legal program to eliminate or minimize the potential for problems. Avoid probate. Put the right people in charge with the authority to get things done. Communicate your reasons exactly why you are doing what you are doing.

(2) Once a family member dies, make sure you have very quick and very open communication with all of the parties involved. This early and open communication will build trust among the parties, often eliminating discourse.

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

How To Find Out What Accounts Deceased Person Owned

Occasionally, after someone dies, the family starts to question what their deceased relative really owned. Sometimes we hear statements from children or other relatives like:

"I thought Dad had more CDs at the bank."

"I thought Dad had another savings account."

"I thought Dad owned stock in some other companies."

"I thought Dad had an annuity and a life insurance policy."

Well, there is no central registry that you can go to and determine everything that someone owned when they died. But there are both informal and formal ways that you can dig and determine what someone owned on the date of their death.

There are a couple of obvious formal ways that you can try and discover additional assets. First, go back and look at the last few years of their tax returns. They would likely have received tax reporting statements from financial institutions that show that accounts were owned. Second, check their mail. If they owned financial accounts, it's likely they may received account statements in the mail.

And then there is the formal way to discover someone's assets after they died. Let's use an example of Dad, who died with a last will and testament. Dad names Son as executor. People are questioning the fact that Dad owned additional accounts. Once Son works with the lawyers and the court system to get confirmed as the executor, the courthouse will issue certified copies of Letters of Independent Executorship. Son can then go to every financial institution where he thinks Dad may have had an account, and the "Letters of Independent Executorship" require the third parties to disclose Dad's account information to Son, who is the independent executor.

So, there is no central registry one can go to and figure out what someone owned when they died, but there are both informal and formal ways to locate whether a deceased person owned additional accounts or other assets. Your estate planning and estate settlement attorney can help you get the proper court authority and make the right kinds of inquiries to expedite this process. And ideally, none of this is necessary if the deceased person would have, during his or her lifetime, maintained a current inventory of assets and communicated that inventory to the appropriate family members or other loved ones.

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

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.