Louisiana law is grounded in French legal principles, while the other 49 states base their systems on English conventions. Few differences remain as Louisiana continues to adopt modern mainstream principles. One exception is succession rights. Probate law in Louisiana -- called succession law – still keeps concepts like forced heirship alive.
Movable or Immovable
Louisiana’s Civil Code divides property into two categories: movable and immovable. Property not specifically labeled immovable under Louisiana law is generally considered movable. In other states, you would call movables personal property, while immovables are real property. In Louisiana, movables have everything to do with portability. They’re items such as furniture, cars or cash. Immovables are things permanently attached to the land -- and if unattached, lose their functionality, such as a house or a tree. Further, if a movable is permanently attached to a building or other construction so that removing it would substantially damage it, the building or construction, it becomes immovable. Moreover, an owner can declare installed machinery, appliances and equipment as immovables.
Louisiana is a community property state, which means property acquired during the marriage is split equally at divorce, unless the spouses have an agreement otherwise. Property acquired by either spouse prior to the marriage is considered separate property, as is property acquired during the marriage with separate money or by gift or inheritance. All movable property acquired during the marriage with community money is presumed to belong to the community.
Married without a Will
A will is critically important for married couples in Louisiana due to the succession laws that remain in place. When a married person dies without a will, or intestate, the surviving spouse’s rights of succession depend upon one factor: did the couple have children? If the answer is "no," the surviving spouse inherits the deceased’s share of the community property, which might include movable as well as immovable property; however, the surviving spouse does not receive the deceased’s separate property, which can also include movable and immovable property. Instead, the deceased's separate property is distributed among his blood relatives. If the couple has children, the surviving spouse does not inherit the deceased’s share of the community property either. Instead, the surviving spouse obtains the right to use the community property -- as though she is leasing it. Upon death or remarriage, the “lease” ends and the children gain exclusive use and ownership of the property. Further, when a couple has children, the surviving spouse has no right to the use of the deceased spouse's separate property, whether movable or immovable; instead, each child inherits an equal share in the deceased’s separate property.
When Probate Isn't Necessary
As with other states, in Louisiana, some property is not part of an estate and subject to probate. Typically, property that is paid to a named payee or beneficiary by a third party is not subject to succession laws. For example, a retirement asset, like an IRA or 401(k), doesn’t have to go through probate. The proceeds of life insurance are another example of an asset that does not go through probate, provided a living beneficiary is named in the document.