The pumpkins are out. The costumes are picked. The parade’s even rolling!
It’s time to talk about some spooky stuff.
Do you have a will?
That, dear reader, is as spooky as it gets, slightly besting for fright, “Does the ghost of Blaine Kern still ride as the Krewe of Boo captain?”
As the Kern family would agree, final acts and testaments are spookier than any ghostly apparitions. Even a legacy built atop doubloons can lead to some jostling. There are only so many feet to stomp down and cover over the shiny stuff.
A month into Successions class I finally realized the practical importance of a will. I’m a slow learner.
If you’re married, acquired the family home during the marriage, and have a kid or two, you can sleep easier. Your nightmare scenarios are relegated to the commercials between football drives. The default rules for those dying without a will leave the property to children in named ownership and to the surviving spouse for use (called a “usufruct”). Probably what you would want anyway, right?
But what about this wrinkle: the surviving spouse loses the right to use the inherited property if she remarries. It just goes “poof” — and then all goes to the children. Mama, I’m sorry, but I own dad’s half now. Could you scoot over?
This goes for the house and the car, but also the community bank account and investments. As the old adage goes, usufructuaries can’t swipe right.
I say “if she remarries” purposefully. The life expectancy of men is five years shorter than women. A husband-and-wife marriage is much more likely to produce a widow than a widower. Usufructs are not necessarily female; they just look that way.
A greater complication comes from another statistical trend: the declining marriage rate. People are getting married at the lowest rate in United States history — or, as the U.S. News and World Report frames, since the Civil War high marriage mark. (Cue those dang lost causers…No, folks, marriage wasn’t better with an antebellum plantation and human beings as community possessions.)
In Louisiana, no marriage means no community property. No community property means an individual leaves only separate property. Separate property means an unmarried partner is left out completely. First comes children. Then parents and siblings. Then a spouse. Then grandpa and great-grand-memaw. Then some fifth cousin.
Partner, best friend, favorite charity or blogboy? The Louisiana Civil Code doesn’t add those assumptions.
You might have noticed in that previous list “spouse” in the fifth position. How does that jive? That’s the order for separate property, stuff that you bring into the marriage or that you carefully declare to be solely yours during a marriage (say, grandpa’s inheritance or the electric rickshaw you buy with it).
If people do get married, they get married older — six years older from a generation ago, according to the unimpeachable Brides.com. One or both might own homes at that point. They marry. They have no children. The named owner of the house dies. The in-laws —not the surviving spouse — now has free reign of the home. Probably not what you would want, right?
Better still: my sister. She and my brother-in-law bought a house shortly before their marriage last Spring. They co-own it, but it predates the community, so separate property rules apply. If she were to die, our attention would immediately turn to the divvying up of her possessions, right? I mean, after a socially appropriate period of grief. (Sidenote: why didn’t Gayle wear black for a year? Sackcloth and ashes and black linen dresses would’ve been such a statement!)
My brother-in-law would quickly learn that my two remaining siblings and I now own half the house, with my parents getting to enjoy its possession for life. My dad’s snoring would be a tell.
Now, that sounds spooky.
But I ain’t afraid of no ghost! The law takes care of a few things. We can help with the rest — and avoid some of the ghastliest problems for those we leave behind.
You could make an appointment to see a lawyer. Thriller, the thrill of the invoice.
Or you could write one yourself. Trick-or-treat?
A handwritten (or “olographic”) will is valid in Louisiana. The Louisiana Civil Code offers these requirements: completely handwritten by the testator, dated, and signed by the testator. And nothing written under the signature. That’s it.
It would be smart to number and date each page and to let a few loved ones know of its existence. And to leave it in a safe place — which might be the hardest step for a Louisianian. In a Schwegmann’s bag next to the attic axe?
Leave specific things or percentages of possessions. All of it to a friend and none of it to a half-sibling you don’t really know. It’s all about to you.
Then rip it up and do it again next year — a haunting Halloween tradition! Will writing as the new pumpkin carving. TikTok would go crazy. Who needs a haunted house dance?
And, then, if you’re still seeing ghosts, go see a lawyer. No need to thank me, ma’am; just doing my job.
Lawyer-as-ghostbuster — undoubtedly a float theme in the Krewe of Boo. Just ask the Kern family. Just write that will.
Blaine Kern’s Mardi Gras contributions are unrivaled. From Algiers to Italy, Rex to Walt Disney, we’re fortunate to be heirs of his only-in-New Orleans story.
And I’m not crying. It’s just allergies.