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By: Scott Grossman on April 5th, 2018

Community Property or Separate Property

There are several steps you can take to sort out how the decedent’s property was owned:

  • Separate all the ownership documents you can find. This can include deeds, certificates of title, pink slips, bank statements and cards, and receipts, and examine if they mention both spouses’ or partners’ names. If so, the property is presumed to be community.
  • Look at the date of these documents to see if the property was acquired before the marriage or partnership or after a possible permanent dissolution. If so, the property is separate.
  • Furthermore, if the property consists of earnings (including fringe benefits) during marriage or partnership, inheritance or gifts received jointly by the couple or property purchased by such earnings, gifts, or inheritance, then it is community property.
  • In conclusion, if the property is the result of a gift or inheritance received by one spouse or partner, then it should be considered separate. Even gifts made by one spouse or partner to the other are considered separate property unless stated otherwise.

Key Terms:

  • Community Property (noun): Any property acquired or owned by a validly married couple. In the context of probate, if there is no will, community property will usually go entirely to the surviving spouse.
  • Title (noun): The instrument (as a deed) that is evidence of a right of ownership. Titles are paper documents showing the chain of ownership for land and property. They can include conveyances, contracts for sale, wills, mortgages, and leases.


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