Community Property Laws in Louisiana

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If you move to Louisiana, all of your property becomes community property.
If you move to Louisiana, all of your property becomes community property. (Image: Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images)

Louisiana is one of nine community property states that don’t care which spouse earned the most during a marriage or which one incurred most of the debt. If you and your spouse part ways, either by divorce or through death, Louisiana law states that each of you owns one-half of the property, and each of you owes one-half of the debt.

Divorce

In a divorce situation, Louisiana courts will generally divide all assets and debts down the middle, assigning half to each of you. This doesn't include your separate property, which is anything you can prove you brought into the marriage or you received by way of gift or inheritance, as long as you didn't commingle or combine any of it with marital assets. Judges don't usually scissor an asset in half, however. The court will total all marital property, then give each spouse separate assets of equal value. It will also assign to each of you half of the marital debt to pay off. It doesn't matter if a credit card is in your spouse's name or your own. Under community property law, you're both responsible for paying it off.

Probate

In Louisiana, if you’re married, you only have the right to leave one-half of your property to beneficiaries in your will. The other half doesn’t belong to you; it belongs to your spouse. You can bequeath your half to your spouse, or you can bequeath it to someone else. If you bequeath your half of your property to your spouse, he owns the entirety of it when you die. If you don’t, he must share the asset with another beneficiary. For example, if you own a piece of land, and you leave your interest in it to someone else, your spouse inherits it as a 50 percent co-owner.

Exceptions

The Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), a federal law governing qualified retirement plans (QRPs), overrides Louisiana’s community property laws. If you have a QRP and your spouse passes away, her interest in the plan automatically reverts to you; it can't pass to her heirs. You can also override Louisiana’s community property laws on your own with a prenuptial agreement. If you decide that you want to handle your debts and assets in some other way, you can put that agreement in writing. Sign it, have it witnessed and notarized and it will prevail over the state's community property laws if you ever divorce.

Tip

Even if you married in another state, all your property becomes community property if you move to Louisiana. But the state also gives you an opportunity to override this law with a marital contract stating that you don’t want your property to become community property. The intent is the same as that of a prenuptial agreement, and you have one year after you establish residency in Louisiana to have it drawn up, signed and notarized.

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