As with many other cultural and social features, Louisiana's legal system stands a bit apart from the rest of the country. The law is based on a Napoleonic legal framework that predates statehood and stands in contrast to the English common law system that prevails in other states. In the matter of estates and inheritance, the statutes provide for administration by parish courts and a succession representative. .
Terms and Definitions
The "succession representative" in Louisiana is synonymous with "executor" as other states use the term. This individual is responsible for carrying out the terms of the will. The will can make the appointment, but if the deceased died without a will, a representative can file for the position by petitioning the parish court. A court-appointed succession representative may handle the property and debts, as well as the distribution of assets to the heirs.
If the will appointed a succession representative, that individual is responsible for presenting the will to the court. The court approves the will as valid, and issues authority for the succession representative to proceed with his work. The succession representative then draws up an inventory of all property belonging to the deceased. In Louisiana, any property jointly owned by the deceased and someone else is "non-succession property" and passes automatically to that joint owner. In this case, the succession representative does not have any responsibility or involvement.
Debts and Taxes
In Louisiana, the succession representative is responsible for notifying creditors and paying all debts and taxes owed by the estate. Louisiana struck down state inheritance taxes in 2012, but enforces no statute of limitations on other debts owed by an estate. Once the succession has closed and the assets have been distributed, heirs have no personal liability for these debts. The succession representative may actively manage the assets of an estate, as long as the will allows him to do so. If not, a succession representative needs court permission to buy, sell or invest estate assets.
The Tableau of Distribution
After the court resolves any issues or disputes, the Louisiana succession representative creates a tableau of distribution. This is a chart ("tableau" in French) describing the proposed distribution of assets to heirs. The heirs of the deceased may object to the tableau and have the court hear their claims. Once issues are resolved, the presiding judge issues a judgement of possession, approving the distribution of assets. While the succession is underway, Louisiana law requires the succession representative to file an annual accounting of the proceedings. After the succession is resolved, the succession representative renders a final accounting and then collects a fee, set by state law at 2.5 percent of the gross assets of the estate.
Louisiana does not require a judicial succession if the deceased died without a will, has no immovable property such as a house, and left his assets to immediate family -- defined as children, spouses, parents, siblings, or children of siblings. The survivors sign an affidavit, which they present to all property custodians: banks, stock brokers, and anyone holding the property of the deceased. This relieves the custodian of any liability over the transfer. If the rights to property are uncertain or disputed, the heirs can still open a judicial proceeding.