As compared to some other states, the Louisiana probate procedure can be quite simple if the decedent’s affairs were in order and if the heirs act in a timely, prudent manner. Otherwise heirs will face an unnecessarily complicated probate, which will increase legal fees and court costs and unduly extend the time to conclude the probate procedure.
Here is what you can do to ease the transition of your estate or the estate of your predeceased spouse:
- a detailed list of the assets you own
- the value of those assets
- detailed list of debts you owe
- where original documents are located (your will, car titles, savings bonds, stock certificates, insurance policies, etc)
- who the beneficiaries are on your insurance policies, retirement accounts, payable on death accounts, savings bonds, annuities, etc.
- name and contact info for your investment advisor, accountant, insurance agent and attorney
2. If you are trading stocks on your own and therefore own stocks in your own name, rather than in an investment account, it is imperative that you keep an up to date ledger with the following information.
- name of the stocks
- number of certificated shares
- number of book shares
- exactly how your name appears on the stock, etc.
The failure to do this will require that your heirs wait for income tax documents and/or dividends to arrive by mail so they can make an accurate list of the stocks you own. This will likely needlessly add months, if not an entire year, to the probate process, with large amounts of time wasted just waiting for information to come in.
3. If your spouse is deceased and you have not completed his/her succession, then seriously consider doing it now. If not, gather all the documents and information listed above as of the date of your spouse’s death.
4. Get a will for any one of these compelling reasons:
- to leave all of your property to your spouse;
- to give your spouse the right to live in your separately owned house;
- to avoid a disorderly disbursement of your assets;
- to appoint an executor of your choice;
- to waive the executor’s 125% bond;
- to give the executor the broadest powers possible;
- if you become ill because there may not be time to do it later;
- to make a charitable bequest;
- to make a declaration of cremation;
- to make a special provision for your heir that is also your care taker;
- to make special provisions for heirs that do not get along;
- to make special provisions, quite frankly, for greedy heirs;
- to forgive debt;
- to even out donations and loans to heirs;
- to protect a child or spouse that receives, or might receive, government assistance based on income and asset tests;
- to shield assets from creditors and reckless acts of an heir or spouse with financial issues; and
- to name a guardian for minor children.
5. Make sure you have both primary and secondary beneficiaries on your life insurance, retirement accounts and annuities.
Here’s what heirs can do to foster an uncomplicated probate:
1. Initiate succession pleadings as soon as possible to avoid loss of important documents.
2. Initiate succession pleadings as soon as possible to avoid loss of critical information.
3. Initiate succession pleadings as soon as possible to avoid the complicating factor of the death of heirs during the intervening years.
If you absolutely most postpone opening a succession, the very least you should do is consult with an attorney to find out what kind of information and documentation you need to gather immediately. This will save substantial attorney’s fees and considerable time.