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Successful Succession

kingson tang

One of the big rules in life and law is that you can’t take it with you. The dearly departed may go to their reward, but all that stuff they amassed while they were here – they leave that all behind. And someone has to own it.

That’s the big idea behind the legal concept known as “succession.”

Any time I address financial issues with a legal component I have to remind listeners that I am not a lawyer, nor do I render legal advice. So please discuss any legal matters with an attorney.

The Louisiana governor’s office of elderly affairs defines succession as “the process of settling a deceased person’s estate and distributing the property after debts are paid. This process is called probate in other states.”

There are generally three stages to the succession or probate process:

1. File the will. I hope you have a will. If not, Louisiana has certain laws that control what happens when a person dies “intestate,” or without a will. You may not want your estate handled this way.

The Louisiana Legal Advisor website warns, “Louisiana has very strict probate and succession laws that control where property goes after someone dies. If there is no will, the state has a will in which certain assumptions are made. The first assumption is that the spouse should not inherit anything from the other spouse if there are children. The next assumption is that for separate property, nieces and nephews should inherit before a spouse. This usually comes as a big surprise to the surviving spouse.”

Generally, a will names the person who will oversee the succession process. This person is called the executor. The will also gives certain specific directions to the executor, identifying who is to get what, etc.

“The most important thing a will can do is change the order of succession that Louisiana provides in the absence of a will,” says Louisiana Legal Advisor.

2. Administer the estate. The executor will receive authority from a court to oversee this process. First, taxes and debts must be paid. If there is not sufficient money to do so, the executor will have authority to sell assets to raise the money. The debts and taxes must be paid before anyone else gets anything.

3. Close the estate. After all debts and taxes have been paid, the executor must then distribute the remaining assets in accordance with the wishes of the deceased (assuming he had a will).

Drafting a will is an easy thing to put off, but once it’s too late, it’s too late. So think carefully if you should have a will drafted.

I’ve seen the estate planning process be a source of great tension and a source of great comfort to families.

The tension comes when the very topic itself become shrouded in drama and mystery. Because it deals with both death and money, it becomes the thing no one wants to discuss.

The comfort comes to parents and spouses that care about those they leave behind and want to make sure things are as orderly and manageable as possible when they die.

Byron is a Certified Financial Planner and Managing Director of the Planning Group at Argent Advisors, Inc.
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