Leaving an Inheritance to Friends in a California Will

California’s community property laws provide surviving spouses with certain rights. Unless the married couple made an early decision to forfeit or otherwise limit these rights, they cannot be overridden by the provisions of a will.

However, Golden State residents can still make inheritance-related decisions about community property, inherited possessions, and separate property.

Community Property

California’s community property laws mandate that, in the absence of any existing agreement between spouses, each partner receives a 50% share in acquired community property upon the dissolution of the marriage. Community property could include:

  • An automobile or recreational vehicle that was purchased with marital income
  • A family home that is titled to a married couple and was bought, in whole or in part, with community property income
  • A financial account that was established after marriage
  • A financial account that was established before marriage but has become inextricably “mixed” with community property income and assets

While community property laws can make it difficult to transfer a home, vehicle, or bank account to a trusted friend, a testator can still bequeath gifts from their share in jointly-owned assets.

Inherited Possessions

Inherited possessions, including accounts, trust funds, and other assets bequeathed in a will, are typically considered a form of separate property to which the surviving spouse is not entitled to a co-equal share.

Separate Property

Community property states do not curtail estate-related decisions involving a testator’s separate property. Under the California Probate Code, separate property customarily could include:

  • Assets owned before marriage, such as a real property, motor vehicle, or an art collection
  • Gifts bequeathed solely to the testator, whether for their birthday, a work promotion, or another event

Most married Californians retain some separate property, irrespective of their age and the duration of their marriage. However, over time, it can become increasingly more difficult to differentiate between what should be categorized as separate property and what should be considered community property.

Avoiding California Probate

California law does not limit or otherwise restrict how residents distribute estate assets, provided they do not infringe on a surviving spouse’s entitlement to one-half of the remaining community property. You can bequeath gifts to a friend, charity, or another unrelated party through:

However, estate plans only work as intended when they comply with state filing requirements and the California Probate Code. If a will is not properly executed, or a revocable living trust abrogates state law, the estate could be placed into intestacy.

During intestate proceedings, a California probate court will distribute inheritances in accordance with a strict legal formula—one that privileges close living relatives and will not make exceptions for a lifelong friend, a preferred charity, or treasured pet.

The Law Firm of Kavesh, Minor & Otis, Inc. for Your Estate Planning and Probate Needs

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