Wills, Probate, Estates and Successions

Posted on Jan 8, 2014

What is the purpose of a Will?

A Will allows you to determine how your assets will be distributed at your death.  If you write a Will, then your assets will be distributed according to your wishes. A Will removes the uncertainty of how your assets will be distributed at your death.

After your death, your Will may be filed in court. This is called “probating” your Will. A Judge will issue an Order that will enable your heirs to lawfully take over ownership of your assets according to your wishes.

If you die without a Will, then Louisiana law establishes how your estate will be distributed at your death. Under Louisiana law if you die without a Will, your “Separate Property” will go to your descendants (children, grandchildren).  If you do not have any descendants, then your separate property will go to your parents or siblings.  Under Louisiana law if you die without a will, your “Community Property” will go to your descendants (children, grandchildren), but your surviving spouse will have the legal right to use the assets. This is called a “usufruct.” If you do not have any descendants, then your surviving spouse will have full ownership of your community property.

We strongly recommend that everyone meet with a lawyer to determine whether a will is advisable in your individual situation. At the law office of Rittenberg, Samuel & Phillips, LLC, we will discuss many situations with you. For example, we will ask you how you want your property distributed if you and your spouse or a child should die in a common disaster (such as an automobile accident).

What is the purpose of a Trust?

In addition to a will, a trust offers further protection and advantages in many situations. A trust allows you to leave your estate to someone, but allows you to impose restrictions. A trust may be useful where, for example, you have minor children or children with special needs. A trust may be useful where:

  • Significant assets are involved
  • There are disabled children or spouses who have special medical needs
  • There are minor children who are not able or ready to manage their own finances
  • There are adult children who, for many reasons, cannot manage their own finances

In Louisiana, many types of trusts are available, including living trusts, revocable trusts, special needs trusts and spendthrift trusts. At the law office of Rittenberg, Samuel & Phillips, LLC, we will tailor these estate planning tools to your individual situation, to meet your individual goals and objectives.

May I write my own will?

Yes. But your will may be invalid if you fail to comply with requirements imposed by law. If your will is void, then you haven’t accomplished what you sought to do in the first place. If your will is declared void, then your assets will be distributed according to law rather than according to your wishes.

Does Louisiana law require me to leave my estate to my children?

Sometimes, yes.

Under current Louisiana law, you must leave a portion of your estate to your children under the age of twenty-four (24). You are also required to leave a portion of your estate to children who because of a mental or physical condition are incapable of caring for themselves or administering their estates, regardless of their age.

What is the procedure to distribute assets after someone dies?

In Louisiana, we call this a “succession.” Succession is the process of opening and administering an estate after a person dies. A Succession is the legal process whereby property is transferred from the Decedent to the people who will inherit.  This process consists of an Attorney preparing and filing a petition and other pleadings with the court.

A Succession must be opened in Court if real estate is involved, or there are other assets in the name of only the person who died. If there is a will, it will be necessary to probate the will in court in order to transfer ownership of assets and real property to persons named in the will as beneficiaries and heirs. If there is no will, it will be necessary to open a succession in court in order to transfer ownership of assets and real property according to rights of succession established by Louisiana law.

When you contact the law firm of Rittenberg, Samuel & Phillips, LLC., we will gather information and file court papers to open succession proceedings. Our lawyers will help you with all aspects of the estate administration, including:

  • Identifying and accessing assets and debts, including bank accounts
  • Transferring title to real and personal property
  • Handling outstanding debts such as final medical expenses, funeral expenses and taxes
  • Putting heirs and beneficiaries into lawful possession of the assets that they have inherited
  • Filing any accounting required by law

Getting sound legal guidance on the succession process can ease your — and your family’s — mind during a difficult period. At the law office of Rittenberg, Samuel & Phillips, L.L.C., we will assist you through the entire process, from estate planning to estate administration. Our attorneys will give you the information that you need to make informed choices. 

Understanding Your Options

The attorneys at Rittenberg, Samuel & Phillips, LLC know that you may be new to the legal system, and we aim to de-mystify the process. We will explain all of your options and help you choose the appropriate methods so that you are able to meet your goals.

To schedule and appointment with an an experienced estate planning and succession lawyer, contact us online or call 504-524-5555. We promptly return all calls. Our office is open Monday through Friday from 8 to 5, with off-site meetings available by appointment.