The succession process, or the process of settling a deceased person’s estate and distributing his or her property, can be complicated for those grieving the recent loss of a loved one to understand. During the succession process, called probate in other parts of the country, property is distributed one way if your loved one died intestate and another way if your loved one died testate. However, the difference between the two can be confusing.
When someone dies without a will they are said to have died intestate. This means that Louisiana’s intestate succession laws will determine who will inherit from the estate once debts are paid.
Intestate succession laws use specific hierarchies to determine who will inherit separate or community property. Separate property is typically property owned before marriage, property inherited by only one spouse during marriage or property given to only one spouse during marriage. However, most property acquired by either spouse during marriage is community property, which generally means that each spouse owns half of that property.
A deceased person’s separate property and his or her share of community property typically goes to his or her children first. If the person did not have children, property owned separately will go to brothers and sisters, followed by other family members. When the deceased person has no children, his or her share of community property will go to the spouse.
Louisiana has already determined through intestate succession laws the order of people who should inherit from a person’s estate, but everyone has the option to change this order by creating a last will and testament. However, a last will and testament must meet all the legal requirements to be considered valid.
Requirements to make a last will and testament valid include:
- The testator told a notary and two witnesses that the document is his or her last will and testament
- The testator signed the document in all required places
- The notary and the witnesses signed a declaration in all the appropriate places
The difference between intestate succession and testate succession can be confusing. However, the presence of a legally valid will can dramatically change who will inherit what from an estate.