How can I find out if my deceased mother’s property is “community property” or “separate?”

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. To read more about community property click here.

Title (noun):

The instrument (as a deed) that is evidence of a right or 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.

There are a number of steps you can take in order 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 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.

These are just a few guidelines to start the process of identifying the way the decedent’s estate is owned. There are probably more steps to be taken before all is sorted out, for which it would be best to consult with your California probate attorney.

 
Scott Grossman

Scott Grossman

Attorney

The Grossman Law Firm, APC · 525 B Street, Suite 1500, San Diego, CA 92101 · (951) 523-8307
 

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