Louisiana Intestate Law

What Happens if You Die Without a Will in Louisiana?

If a person dies without a valid Last Will and Testament in Louisiana, he or she is said to have died intestate.  His or her estate will be handled by intestate succession.  This means that the deceased person’s assets will be distributed under Louisiana intestate law.

Note: The application of Louisiana intestate law is very mechanical.  It doesn’t leave room for shifting assets are altering distributions based on circumstances. Because of this inflexibility, you should not rely on Louisiana intestate law to take the place of a Last Will and Testament.

Louisiana’s intestate rules distribute a deceased person’s assets to various relatives, beginning with the children and spouse and extending to other descendants, ancestors, and descendants of ancestors.  The exact application of Louisiana intestate law depends on two factors:

  • Whether the decedent’s property  is community property or separate property
  • The degree of relationship of each family member to the decedent

Community Property vs. Separate Property

Louisiana is one of a handful of states that uses a community property system for ownership of property. Under this system, a person’s assets are grouped into categories of community property and separate property.  As discussed below, the treatment of each asset at a person’s death depends a great deal on whether the asset is separate or community property.

If a person is (or has been) married, it is important to first analyze the estate assets to determine which assets are community property and which assets are separate property.  To make this determination, see our section on Louisiana Community Property Law.

Treatment of Separate Property under Louisiana Intestate Law

If a person dies without a will in Louisiana, his or her separate property is distributed among his relatives.  The Louisiana Code groups the relatives into categories and gives certain categories priority over others.

Distribution to surviving descendants.  Under Louisiana’s intestate succession laws, separate property is distributed first to a deceased person’s children.  Each child of the deceased person will share equally in the separate property.

If any of the deceased person’s children are also deceased, their descendants (the deceased person’s grandchildren) will inherit “by roots” (equivalent to per stirpes in other states).  This means that a deceased child’s descendants will share equally in the share that their deceased parent would have taken if he or she had survived.

For example, assume Shemp has three sons, Curly, Larry, and Moe.  Moe dies several years before his father, Shemp, leaving two daughters.  At Shemp’s death, his two surviving children (Curly and Larry) will each inherit one-third of his separate property.  The other one-third will be split between Moe’s two daughters, giving them one-sixth each.

No surviving descendants, but with surviving parents and siblings.  If a person is not survived by any descendants, his or her separate property will pass to his or siblings, subject to a usufruct for life for the decedent’s parents.  If both of the decedent’s parents are alive, they will share the usufruct.  If only one parent is alive, or upon the later death of one parent if both are living, the usufruct belongs to the surviving parent.

No surviving descendants or parents, but with surviving siblings.  In this case, the surviving siblings will share equally in the deceased person’s separate property if the siblings have the same parents as the deceased person.

Things are more complicated if the deceased person had half-brothers and half-sisters.  If so, the deceased person’s separate property is divided equally between his or her mother’s and father’s family lines. The mother’s family line gets one-half of the property and the father’s family line gets the remaining half.  Any brothers and sisters with the same parents will inherit through both lines. The half-brothers and half-sisters will only inherit through the mother’s or father’s line, as the case may be.

In this context, descendants of deceased half-siblings do not inherit the share that their parent would have inherited.  The children of a deceased half-brother would not inherit in the same manner as a full-blood sibling.

No surviving descendants or siblings, but with surviving parents.  The parents will inherit the deceased person’s separate property.  If both parents are alive, they will inherit equally.  Otherwise, the property will pass to the surviving parent.

No surviving descendants, parents, siblings, descendants of siblings, or spouse.  Separate property is distributed to the deceased person’s other relatives (first to “ascendants,” if any, then to “collaterals”), depending on the family relationship.

Treatment of Community Property under Louisiana Intestate Law

A deceased person’s Louisiana community property is distributed to his spouse or descendants, depending on the family situation.  Here are the two possible scenarios:

  • Surviving descendants and surviving spouse. The surviving spouse is given a usufruct (life estate) over the deceased person’s community property.  This usufruct will end when the surviving spouse either dies or remarries.  At that time, the assets will pass fully to the descendants.
  • Surviving spouse and no surviving descendants.  All community property passes to the surviving spouse.

If the deceased person had surviving descendants only (no surviving spouse), there would be no community property.

Special Rule for Real Estate

Gifts (donations) of real estate (immovable property) are treated differently from other intestate property. If the deceased person was given real estate by an ancestor, that real estate will pass back to the ancestor at death.  This rule applies only in the situation where the deceased person did not have children.  Keep in mind that a gift to one spouse would be categorized as separate property.