What happens if I die without a Will? It seems as if we are asked this question everyday. Shockingly, most people are unaware of the many hidden dangers of dying without a Will. We know firsthand how important having a Will, even a simple one, can be. Unfortunately, many of our clients have learned the hard way – losing a loved one without a Will.
When you die in Louisiana without a valid Will, you are said to have died intestate. This means that the laws in place on the day you died will determine how your estate will be divided up. These rules are broad, inflexible and absolute.
Two main questions begin the analysis: (1) Separate vs. Community Property? (2) Who are the closest living relatives?
The first question must be answered for each piece of property. Everything that a person owned or had rights to when they died makes up their estate. Each thing must be categorized as separate or community property.
Separate property does not go to your spouse. It will go to your children, siblings or parents. Community property will go to your children or spouse. Both could be subject to a usufruct, which is a Louisiana legal regime in which a person has the right to use property, but has to give it back to another person at a designated time (many times upon death).
The priority of who gets what depends on the classification of the property. One “class” (children) gets all the property and excludes the other relatives.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that because you and your spouse both live in your home, that it is community. In a shockingly not that uncommon of a situation, your brother could end up living in your house and your spouse would be out on the street.
Example: Martha and Matt were married last year, both are in their 40’s and this is Martha’s second marriage. Martha has two small children and lives in the home that she bought after her first divorce. To make life easier on the kids, Martha and Matt decide to stay in that home after they are married. Unfortunately, Martha was killed in an automobile accident on her way home from her parents house. She did not have a Will. In this case, Matt has no legal rights to remain in the home, and in the current economy Matt was recently laid off from his job. Matt is now out on the street, while Martha’s brother inherited the family’s house.
This is just one example of how intestate laws in Louisiana can be harsh and painful to swallow. Get started today on your Estate Plan.