State legal systems in the United States are based on one of two legal systems. Forty-nine states base their laws on the common law system, first used in England.
However one state, Louisiana, uses the French Napoleonic Code as the basis for their legal system. While common law-based legal systems rely on the rulings of judges to set precedents that are used to make later decisions, the Louisiana system does not.
The Napoleonic Code was intended to simplify the laws in a time when many people were illiterate or did not have access to printed information. Ironically, the effort to create a simpler and easier to understand legal system has resulted in one of the more complex and least understood set of state laws here in Louisiana.
There are many other distinctions between the two systems, but it is not as important to know every single distinction as it is to understand that there are significant differences between the state laws in Louisiana and those of most other states.
Real Estate Law Basics
Real estate laws are the laws that address the land and anything built upon that land including ownership, usage, and transfer of ownership of that land. As discussed above, Louisiana’s unique legal heritage has affected the current laws in many ways. One such way is the term used to refer to real estate in this state. While the rest of the United States uses “real estate” in legal documents, in Louisiana real estate is referred to as “immoveable property.”
Inheritance and “Forced Heirs”
Another area which requires the special attention is that of inheritance within Louisiana. The laws regarding inheritance derived from the Napoleonic Code were intended to ensure that assets remained in their family of origin, so while the other 49 states allow property to be transferred as the owner prefers after their death, this is not always the case in Louisiana.
The laws regarding inheritance of real estate can dictate that close relatives including parents or children inherit property before anyone else.
Community Property or Separate Property?
The real estate laws in Louisiana separate property ownership into two categories:
- Community property
- Separate property
While the difference between two distinctions may seem apparent initially, upon closer inspection, the line becomes less clear. For example, once a couple is married, all properties do not automatically become community properties, and in the case of divorce, one spouse may not have any claim to or rights in regard to certain properties. Some of the factors that are considered in this situation are when the property was purchased and which party’s funds were used, which can be a difficult fact to ascertain.
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