Sometimes, a task you thought was finished boomerangs back on you. In the case of probate law, a closed estate can be reopened when new facts emerge. But before asking a court to reopen an estate, consider all outcomes and consequences. Absent fraud, probate experts suggest it may be an uphill battle to get money from a closed estate. Is reopening the case worth the costs you’ll likely face?
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Reasons to Reopen an Estate
In Louisiana, probate is called succession. A closed estate can be reopened in Louisiana “if other property is discovered or for any other proper cause.” The Louisiana Supreme Court has listed several circumstances that meet the “proper cause” standard. Perhaps an unknown heir turns up. Maybe a will surfaces. In such cases, the succession can be reopened to correct the distribution of property. Before proceeding, it’s wise to find out whether the asset you’re after still exists in a usable condition.
No Proper Cause
Circumstances that do not meet the “proper cause” standard include the return of property to an estate by an heir who received it before the deceased’s death. The Louisiana Supreme Court also has held that an error of law also does not warrant reopening an estate. A creditor that fails to make a claim during succession is out of luck. The creditor cannot come back later and demand the estate be reopened.
Going to Court to Reopen an Estate
Any party with an interest in the estate can ask the court to reopen the succession by showing cause. But the court is allowed to use “sound discretion” to determine whether to proceed. The judge may reappoint the previous executor or name a new one. Once the facts are accepted at a hearing, the court is allowed to redistribute assets according to a will or Louisiana succession law. The judge then signs an amended judgment transferring newly found property to the proper heirs. The redistribution of an estate’s property will be determined by the circumstances of each individual case.
Redistributing Estate Assets
Reopening an estate and ultimately redistributing property can create financial fallout. However, Louisiana law limits the impact by severely reducing the chances you will recover assets, particularly cash. Suppose a man dies without a will and his nephew inherits $1,000,000. Ten years later, someone discovers the uncle’s will squirreled away in the attic. The document never mentions the nephew. Will he have to return the money? Louisiana law says no. “The reopening of a succession shall in no way adversely affect or cause loss to any bank, savings and loan association or other person, firm or corporation.” Louisiana’s statute is written to discourage reopening an estate, as the legislature protected those who have relied upon the original judgment of possession. Except in cases of sentimental heirlooms without significant monetary value, reopening an estate and recovering a particular asset may be unlikely because of the statutory “loss” to the person in possession.