Many people do not take the time to learn about Inheritance Law or to write wills and testaments. The unfortunate result is that many individuals pass away without having ever written one.
What happens to their property in that case? In this article, you will find information about inheritance law in California and other states. Such laws govern the legal procedures followed to distribute the property of the deceased to any surviving spouse or family members or both—whether or not a written will is present.
Community vs. Separate Property Distribution
Under the community property law, any property purchased or acquired during the marriage is considered “community property,” and each spouse retains a one-half interest of all marital property. Each spouse may keep a separate interest in any property acquired through inheritance or a gift, purchase, or other acquisition before the marriage, or a written agreement between them to maintain the property separate from community property.
In a community property state, the deceased spouse has the right to distribute their half of the property to anyone other than the surviving spouse, if they so desire. However, they cannot dispose of their spouse’s half of the community property. Only the spouse has the right to dispose of separate property and may do so using a written will or testament.
States which adhere to community property law are as follows: Arizona, California, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, Wisconsin, and Alaska (in Alaska, the spouses must have a written agreement). All other states adhere to what is called the common law. In these states, a spouse does not have the automatic right to fifty percent ownership of all assets acquired during the marriage. Instead, ownership is recognized according to the name on the title of the shared property, or whose income paid for it in the absence of a title.