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Succession: Would you be happy with letting Louisiana decide?

Owning your own home provides you with several benefits and challenges throughout the time you own it. As you take care of your landscaping, maybe renovate the kitchen or otherwise make it your own, you may want to stop to think what will happen to it after your death.

The reality is that most people here in Louisiana are just like those around the rest of the country - they don't have estate plans in place to handle the distribution of all of their assets, including their homes. Dying without at least a will means that state law dictates where your assets go.

Are you married?

If you are, Louisiana begins with the premise that you and your spouse own the house jointly. You own half of the interest in the home, and your spouse owns the other half. If you die without a will under these circumstances, the laws of succession assume that your spouse retains his or her half of the home and the other half passes as follows:

  • To your living children
  • If none, then to other living descendants
  • If none, then to your surviving spouse
  • If none, then to your living parents and/or siblings
  • If none, then to your living collateral relations

Collateral relations include uncles, aunts, and cousins. The law does what it can to keep the property in your family if you don't designate who will receive your half of the ownership in your home.

Are you married, but own the home separately?

If the home has legally remained your separate property throughout the marriage, then the line of succession changes somewhat after your death without a will. In contrast to the previous rules regarding succession, your spouse does not own half interest in the home. Without a will, your home could pass as follows:

  • To your living children
  • If none, then to other living descendants
  • If none, then to your living parents and/or siblings
  • If none, then to your surviving spouse
  • If none, then to your collateral relations

As you can see, your spouse would not receive the home unless you have no children, other descendants or parents and siblings.

Your spouse doesn't have to move

You could title your home in a way that allows your spouse to automatically inherit your half of it upon your death. In other cases, the surviving spouse is given the right to live in the home until his or her death, at which time the home passes to the heirs in the will or beneficiaries of a trust.

How you decide to pass on your home, along with any other real property you may own, should be your choice and not the choice of the state of Louisiana. In order to determine the best method of succession for you, your spouse and your family, you should discuss building a customized estate planning with an attorney.

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