Louisiana Successions and Probate

This section of our site answers common questions about how to deal with the assets of a person who died with asset in the State of Louisiana.  Use the information below and the links to the right to find out more about Louisiana probate and successions, including how to determine whether a succession is necessary.

What is a Louisiana Succession?

Louisiana law uses the word succession to refer to the probate process.  A Louisiana succession is a court process for changing title to assets from a deceased person to his or her heirs or beneficiaries.

So if a succession is the same thing as probate, why the different terminology?

The difference has to do with the history of how Louisiana law developed.  The law of most states is based on a framework of prior court opinions known as common law.  Louisiana took a different path, choosing to use a civil law system that is has its roots in French and Spanish codes.

Because of the differences in origin, Louisiana law uses different terms to refer to various legal concepts.  The concepts themselves, though, are not substantially different.

What is an Estate?

The term estate is usually used to refer the property that a person owned at death. Under Louisiana law, a person’s estate includes all of the property, rights, and obligations that a person leaves after his or her death, as well as rights and obligations that don’t arise until after death.

What is the Purpose of a Succession?

The purpose of succession is to give clear or marketable title to the deceased person’s assets.  After the succession process is complete, the individuals or organizations that end up with the assets can sell them, take out loans against them, and otherwise freely deal with the assets.

Successions are often required to give assurance to third parties (such as financial institutions or buyers). As part of the succession, the court will issue a Judgment of Possession that transfers title to the decedent’s assets. This court involvement reassures third parties that a person who claims to own a deceased person’s property is a true owner.

Common reasons for opening a succession include:

  • Clearing Title to Real Estate.  Louisiana successions are often necessary to clear title to real estate (called immovable property in Louisiana).  Without a succession, a potential buyer, lender, or other third party doesn’t really know who owns the property.
  • Access to Bank Accounts.  With few exceptions, a bank will require a succession before it will transfer the account of a deceased accountholder to anyone else.  In fact, because of the strict privacy rules governing banks, most banks require court documents before discussing the matter with a person’s heirs.

Testate and Intestate Successions

A Louisiana succession can be either testate or intestate. A succession is said to be testate succession if the decedent left a will that is valid under Louisiana law.  A succession is intestate to the extent that it is not a testate succession. This could include, for example:

  • Successions where the decedent did not leave a valid will;
  • Succession in which the decedent had a will, but it was only partially valid or only disposed of a part of his or her property.
Note: In keeping with its tradition of standing out, Louisiana law uses the word testament to refer to a Last Will and Testament. But since most people use the word will to refer to a Last Will and Testament, we’ll stick with that term in this section of our site.

Is a Louisiana Succession Always Necessary?

Louisiana successions are not always necessary.  A lot depends on what assets the deceased person owned and how they are titled.

Some assets – such as annuities and IRAs, insurance policies, and certain retirement plans – are not part of the Louisiana succession. These non-probate assets pass automatically to the named beneficiary, without the need for court involvement.

Note: This is so even if the deceased person left a Last Will and Testament that differs from the beneficiary designations.   The beneficiary designations will trump the Last Will and Testament.

We can help you determine whether a Louisiana succession is necessary in your situation and, if so, let you know how much it will cost.