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What happens if you don't have an estate plan when you die?

It's a fact that many people don't prepare for their deaths with an estate plan. Some may not have planned because their deaths were unexpected, but others have been old enough to know that an estate plan was necessary. Having an estate plan is important for a number of reasons, and not taking the time to plan could hurt your family later.

If you don't create an estate plan, Louisiana state laws have a plan in place for you already. The problem is that you get no say in what happens to your property or financial assets. Not having an estate plan -- called a succession plan in Louisiana -- can affect you while you're still alive and affect your family following your death.

If you die without an estate plan, does the state take your assets?

That's not usually how it works. Instead, the court will distribute your assets and debts to your family members in accordance with Louisiana's probate and succession laws.

Dying without a will is called dying intestate. If this happens, your community property -- that which was acquired during the marriage -- will go to your children, although your surviving spouse may have a right to use the property.

If you have no children, the community property will go to your spouse. If you have no surviving spouse, the community property will go to other relatives.

If you and your spouse die without an estate plan, your minor children could be placed into foster care or with a relative. Depending on your circumstances, that may not be the person you want raising your children.

To prevent problems and make your wishes known, you can draft a will and use trusts and other estate planning tools, including powers of attorney.

Creating powers of attorney allows a trusted person to handle matters in the event that you cannot.

If you're unable to make decisions for yourself and have no estate plan, your spouse will be in charge of making financial and medical decisions on your behalf. If you have no spouse, matters become more complicated.

You can simplify matters and make your wishes known by creating financial and medical powers of attorney. You can even name two separate people to handle each -- the financial and the medical. In any case, it's best to include powers of attorney in your estate plan now, rather than letting uncertainties escalate to family disputes in the event that you become medically incapacitated.

You can also create a living will -- also called an advance health care directive -- to indicate which medical treatments you want to receive -- or have withheld -- in the event that your medical condition becomes terminal. Taking this step can alleviate your family's burden of having to make extremely difficult medical decisions.

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