LEGAL INHERITANCE: A SPOUSE’S RIGHTS UNDER CALIFORNIA INHERITANCE LAW

When it comes to inheritance law, California intestate succession rules favor a spouse in many instances. Let us explore how many ways a spouse can inherit in California and under Probate Law California. As always, you must discuss your rights with an inheritance attorney before you make any decisions.

HOW MANY WAYS DOES THE CALIFORNIA INHERITANCE LAW ALLOW A SPOUSE TO INHERIT?

  1. A spouse can inherit by a will.
  2. A spouse can inherit in a trust.
  3. A spouse can be named as a beneficiary of an account in a bank or financial institution, or brokerage firm.
  4. A spouse who is not named in a will or trust can have community rights in the estate’s property or trust’s property.
  5. A spouse who is not named in a will or trust can claim against the estate or trust as a creditor.
  6. A spouse who is not named as a beneficiary in the will or trust can receive an asset, based on joint tenancy rights.
  7. A spouse who is not named in a will or trust can have contractual rights to assets of the estate, trust or accounts.
  8. A spouse who is omitted from a will or trust may have rights under intestate succession rules both as to community property and as to separate property of the deceased spouse.
  9. A spouse who is pretermitted in a will or trust, meaning that he or she is just not mentioned, can claim a part of the estate from either community or separate property interests of the decedent spouse.
  10. There are some types of accounts that under Federal ERISA law must pass to a spouse, and which require a spouse’s permission for beneficiary changes. These are mostly ERISA pension plans and are treated under Federal law and not California law.
  11. There are also intestate succession rules favoring a spouse, as well as an elective share of a spouse.

CALIFORNIA BENEFICIARY LAW

Even though beneficiary law is not exactly the same as inheritance law, there are some important inheritance regulations that are affected by beneficiary laws in California. What are the sources of California’s beneficiary laws? We first look to the Probate Code California which outlines what happens when you name a person as a beneficiary of an account. California Probate Code 5122 defines an account as: (a) “Account” means a contract of deposit of funds between a depositor and a financial institution, and includes a checking account, savings account, certificate of deposit, share account, and other like arrangement. Multiple party accounts are defined in Probate Code 5132 as:

(a) A joint account.

(b) A P.O.D. account. (POD means pay on death).

(c) A Totten trust account.

These types of accounts have special laws. The Probate Code defines who will receive these types of accounts, but there are also rules regarding spouses or others that made contributions to these accounts, as well as joint accounts.

California Inheritance laws are complex and confusing. They are a mix of intestate succession, testate succession and contractual laws that all come into play when determining who will inherit or get the property after someone dies. Our inheritance attorneys in California can counsel you regarding your rights as to inheritance in California.

INHERITANCE LAW

Legal inheritance laws in California is governed by the Probate Code, but there are some references in the Civil Code and the Code of Civil Procedure that affect inheritance law. You can find the California Codes here. Partition laws, Inheritance of Unclaimed property, Actions to re-establish destroyed land records, and laws of permanent escheats to the State of California all affect inheritances.

DOES THE SPOUSE AUTOMATICALLY INHERIT EVERYTHING IN CALIFORNIA?

If there is no will, and the property is community property, the surviving spouse automatically will get one hundred percent of the community property. So, the Probate Code allows a spouse to file a Spousal Property Petition and claim 100% of the community property by a simplified method which skips probate. We can help spouses file a spousal property petition, and our attorneys also represent children or grandchildren in opposing spousal property petitions when the property is not all community. Ask us about the definition of community property and separate property. Read more about spouse and step-children inheritance here.

CALIFORNIA INHERITANCE TAX

Is there an inheritance tax in California?

Estate “Pick-Up” Tax. California does not conform to the federal estate and GST taxes, but instead imposes what is referred to as the estate “pick-up” tax. The estate “pick-up” tax is a tax equal to the maximum federal estate tax credit allowed. The federal estate tax credit was repealed for decedents
dying after 2004, thus the state’s pick-up tax is zero. The California estate “pick-up” tax is administered by the State Controller’s Office.

Generally, gifts and inheritances by a spouse are exempt from inheritance tax under Federal law, as well as California law, so long as the surviving spouse is a US Citizen. There are some special tax rules for noncitizen spouses who inherit. You must consult an inheritance attorney regarding noncitizen spouses before someone dies and after a spouse is deceased.

WHAT HAPPENS IF THE SPOUSES COMMINGLED COMMUNITY PROPERTY AND SEPARATE PROPERTY AND ONE OF THEM DIES?

Commingling of community property and separate property create special problems in inheritance rules. Sometimes children tell us that dad bought the home before his marriage to his new wife. One must take into consideration when the property was purchased, and whether there was any mortgage which was paid on the property from community earnings of the two spouses. Talk to our inheritance lawyer about inheritance law in California. We can guide you regarding specific laws pertaining to inheritance.

INHERITANCE LAW

Contact legal counsel, Mina Sirkin, California Inheritance attorney at 818.340.4479 to discuss law inheritance law legal issues in Los Angeles, California.

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