Making The Complex
UNDERSTANDABLE

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Making a long succession even longer

In Louisiana, as in other states, the succession process, also known as probate, can be unpredictable. Even when the estate involved is relatively simple and there are few heirs, those heirs may expect to wait six months to a year before the process ends. If you have recently lost a loved one and are about to enter succession, you may have many questions, including wondering how long it will take. 

Every estate is different, and many factors can influence how smooth or complicated succession will be. By understanding what the process entails and those factors that can disrupt its flow, you may gain a clearer picture of what to expect with your loved one’s succession. 

Questions and more questions 

When someone dies, that person can no longer legally own property. Succession is the legal process that determines who gets that property. However, it is not that simple. The court must first ascertain the answers to many questions, such as the following: 

  • What are the assets that verifiably belong to the estate of the deceased? 
  • Are there any assets that may need professional valuation or that are complicated to appraise? 
  • Who and where are the rightful heirs of those assets? 
  • Is there a verifiable will that expresses the wishes of the deceased for distributing the assets, or will the court have to determine how to legally divide the assets? 
  • Does the will designate an executor, or will the court have to appoint one? 
  • Are there any creditors claiming unpaid debts of the deceased, and are those claims valid? 
  • Are there any outstanding state or federal taxes the estate must pay? 

Obtaining the answers to these questions may lead to additional issues. For example, if the heirs or the executor live far from the estate, the court will need additional time to send original documents back and forth to obtain signatures. A large number of heirs may also increase the likelihood of factions, suspicions about the executor’s actions or motions to contest the validity of the will. Outstanding taxes, including federal estate taxes, may take many additional months to resolve. 

Ideally, a well-prepared estate plan will address many of these contingencies so that succession can proceed with minimal disruption. However, whether you are the executor or an heir to the estate, it is always within your rights to seek legal advice if you fear your interests are in jeopardy during the succession process. 

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