How to Reopen a Closed Estate in Louisiana

By Terry White

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?

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.

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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.

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When Is an Estate Considered Settled?

When a person dies, his property is gathered into an estate. The estate is formed for the purpose of settling his outstanding liabilities and distributing what remains to his heirs and beneficiaries. The process for distributing a decedent’s estate varies by state. As a result, review the laws of the state where the decedent lived to determine the process related to your specific set of circumstances. Generally, an estate is considered settled when a court declares the estate closed.

How to Dispute Estates and Wills

When a person dies, the majority of her property is processed through a judicial proceeding known as probate. During this process, the court will determine which will should be used to distribute the property contained in the estate, what property should be included in the estate, and who should serve as executor. The probate court will also settle all disputes related to the estate. The details of probate law vary by state, so you will need to check state law for specific procedures.

What Has to Be Appraised for an Estate?

The purpose of probate is to pay the debts, funeral costs and taxes of a deceased person’s estate and transfer the remaining assets to his beneficiaries. The word probate is derived from the Latin word “probatio,” meaning to prove. Probate can be described as the process of proving a decedent's estate is being administered according to law. With that in mind, appraisals are used to prove the true value of assets are accounted for when they are transferred.

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