THE EFFECTS OF A LITIGANT’S DEATH DURING A DIVORCE PROCEEDING

Posted June 22, 2018 in Family Law by Bobby Khalajestani.

Blog

June 22, 2018
THE EFFECTS OF A LITIGANT’S DEATH DURING A DIVORCE PROCEEDING
Read more »

 

Life is unpredictable and sometimes one of the parties dies before the final judgment is made in a divorce case. Naturally, the salient question is: “How will property be divided when one spouse dies during the divorce?”

Assuming the death of the spouse was not criminally expedited by the other, the answer to that question hinges on whether the parties obtained a bifurcation of marital status. A party seeking bifurcation of marital status is essentially asking the court to separate or “bifurcate” the issue of marital status from the rest of the other issues such as property division, custody, and spousal/child support. Because a typical divorce can take over a year and a half to finalize, a bifurcation might be desirable when one party wants to terminate their marital status early and be pronounced single again.

The termination of marital status can affect the division of property in two ways. On one hand, if a party dies after their marital status is terminated, then the family court maintains jurisdiction over the property and the decedent’s personal representative continues to represent the estate’s interests.  The community property presumption applies so that property held in joint tenancy will be divided between the surviving spouse and the estate of the deceased spouse. The surviving spouse will have no right of survivorship. In the other scenario, if a party dies before the marital status is dissolved, then the family court loses jurisdiction of the property division and the case is moved to the probate court for further adjudication. Unlike the first scenario, the community property presumption does not apply meaning that property held in joint tenancy will pass, by right of survivorship, to the surviving spouse. (Estate of Mitchell (1999) 76 Cal.App.4th 1378,1386.) These two vast differences illustrate why dissolving marital status and severing joint tenancies can be critical in protecting a litigant’s property interest.

A distinctive feature of joint tenancy, as opposed to other interests in land, is the right of survivorship. This means that when one joint tenant dies, their interests vests automatically to the surviving joint tenant. When a party severs the joint tenancy, the parties will no longer hold title as joint tenants, but rather as tenants in common thereby extinguishing the right of survivorship. This alternative form of property ownership means that each party has a distinct, separate ownership share in the property thus allowing for a party to bequeath (transfer via will) his or her property interest to another person other than the surviving spouse if he or she so chooses. A joint tenant may sever a joint tenancy in real property unilaterally by: (1) executing and delivering a deed to a third person, (2) executing a deed to him or herself, (3) executing a written declaration of severance, or (4) executing any other written instrument evidencing an intent to sever. (Civ. Code, § 683.2, subd. (a); Mitchell, supra, 76 Cal.App.4th at p. 1385.) The simplest of the options is executing a written declaration of severance and recording it. These written instruments must be recorded before the party dies for it to become effective.

Another important consideration to protect one’s property interest in the event of an untimely death is to create a new will. Although the California Family Law Summons contains automatic restraining orders (“ATROS”), the ATROS do not prevent either party from creating a new will. The new will enables a party to decide an alternate inheritance plan excluding a former spouse. It is likewise important to destroy the old will.

If you are seeking information or counsel regarding estate planning or protecting your property during divorce, please contact one of the experienced attorneys at Lonich & Patton – we offer free half-hour consultations. We also offer free simple wills to all our family law clients during the process of their divorce.

Lastly, please remember that each individual situation is unique, and results discussed in this post are not a guarantee of future results.  While this post may detail general legal issues, it is not legal advice. Use of this site does not create an attorney-client relationship.

This article has no comment.

Share |

MENTAL HEALTH AND COMPETENCY ISSUES IN FAMILY LAW

Posted June 18, 2018 in Family Law by Riley Pennington.

The competency of a party in a family law proceeding can significantly affect how a case will be litigated in California.  While California is a no-fault divorce state, meaning that the parties may divorce due to “irreconcilable differences”, the law requires that a person must have the capacity to understand the basic legal and financial consequences of entering into a divorce. Under California Probate Code Section 4609, “capacity” means a person’s ability to understand the nature and consequences of a decision and to make and communicate a decision. In the case of proposed health care, capacity is defined as the ability to understand its significant benefits, risks, and alternatives. To ensure that parties with mental health and competency issues are represented fairly in divorce proceedings, the California legislature gave the judiciary the express authority to appoint a guardian ad litem or a conservator to represent the incompetent person’s best interests.

A guardian ad litem or conservator work alongside the protected person’s attorney and will make a wide range of legal decisions for the person ranging from spousal support, property division, custody, and visitation. California Family Code section 2332 (b), provides in pertinent part, that a guardian ad litem may be appointed “to defend and protect the interest of the spouse who lacks legal capacity to make decisions.”

If the spouse is already protected by a conservator, then the court will presume that a guardian ad litem is necessary and will appoint one without a competency hearing. A guardian ad litem differs from a conservator because a guardian ad litem only serves up until the conclusion of the court proceeding in question. The Latin term “ad litem” means “for the suit.” Thus, a guardian ad litem is a temporary guardian. In contrast, a conservator may persist beyond the final adjudication of a single case.

A conservator is appointed to make the day-to-day financial decisions for the protected party.  A conservatorship is governed by California Probate Code 1801(b) which provides that a conservator shall be appointed by court upon showing that a person is “substantially unable to manage his or her own financial resources or resist fraud or undue influence.” To qualify for a conservatorship, the party must submit a brief statement of facts addressing the following five factors:  (1) The inability of the proposed conservatee to properly provide for his or her needs for physical health, food, clothing, and shelter; (2) The location of the proposed conservatee’s residence and the ability of the proposed conservatee to live in the residence while under conservatorship; (3) alternatives to conservatorship considered by the petitioner or proposed conservator and reasons why those alternatives are not available; (4) health or social services provided to the proposed conservatee during the year preceding the filing of the petition, when the petitioner or proposed conservator has information as to those services; and (5) the inability of the proposed conservatee to substantially manage his or her own financial resources, or to resist fraud or undue influence. (Prob. Code § 1821.)

Competency of a party may also be an issue in proceedings to obtain an annulment. Pursuant to Family Code section 2210(c), a marriage is voidable if either party is of “unsound mind” while entering the marriage. Accordingly, a marriage can later be annulled where there is a showing that at least one of the parties was incompetent.  Just as a third-party may move for a court to order a guardian ad litem or conservator, certain third parties can also bring annulments. Some children for example may choose to bring a nullity action after their parent has died, when the new marriage results in that child being cut off from the inheritance.

If you are seeking information or counsel regarding competency issues during divorce, please contact one of the experienced attorneys at Lonich & Patton – we offer free half-hour consultations. We also offer free wills to all of our family law clients during the process of their divorce.

Lastly, please remember that each individual situation is unique, and results discussed in this post are not a guarantee of future results.  While this post may detail general legal issues, it is not legal advice. Use of this site does not create an attorney-client relationship.

This article has no comment.

Share |

GIFTING REAL ESTATE TO FAMILY MEMBER CARETAKER: RED FLAGS

Posted June 8, 2018 in Estate Planning by Michael Lonich.

Giving gifts to loved ones late in life is a meaningful way to make family and friends feel cherished. Gifts of real estate to family and friends may show appreciation, but a gift of real estate made late in life to a family member or caretaker can raise several red flags. Is the donor susceptible to fraud or undue influence by the recipient of the gift? Does the donor have sufficient mental capacity to make the gift? To address these red flags, courts require certain documentation or evidence if a gift is contested.

One of the court’s primary concerns regarding gifts from adults late in life is whether the gift was influenced by fraud or undue influence, especially when gifts are given to people who have close relationships with the adult. Therefore, California law requires courts to apply a legal presumption – an assumption that any gift from a dependent adult (person over 65 who is unable to provide for his or her personal needs) to a “care custodian” was the product of fraud or undue influence. (Cal. Prob. Code, § 21380.)

A “care custodian” is a person who provides health or social services to a dependent adult. A “care custodian” is not someone who provided services to a dependent adult if the custodian had a personal relationship with the dependent adult at least 90 days before providing health or social services, at least 6 months before the dependent adult’s death, and before the dependent adult was admitted to hospice care if he/she was admitted.  (Cal. Prob. Code, § 21362.)  The person in favor of the gift can rebut, or oppose, the presumption of fraud or undue influence with evidence that the gift was not the product of fraud or undue influence.  (Cal. Prob. Code, § 21380.)

Courts will not assume the gift is a product of fraud or undue influence if a “certificate of independent review” is executed with the transfer. A certificate of independent review shows the court that an independent attorney consulted with the person making the gift about the nature and consequences of the gift and attempted to determine if the intended gift was the result of fraud or undue influence. This consultation must occur out of the presence of the any heirs or proposed recipients. The certificate is signed and given to the person making the gift.

The court will not assume the donor’s family members and cohabitants received gifts from a dependent adult by fraud or influence. (Cal. Prob. Code , § 21382.)  However, gifts to family members and cohabitants will be invalid if the family member or cohabitant drafted the transfer document themselves. Family members and cohabitants are also subject to claims that the donor’s gift was subject to fraud or undue influence. (Cal. Prob. Code, § 6104.) They may also be subject to a claim that the donor did not have sufficient mental capacity to make the gift.

To prove undue influence, one must show the donor acted under excessive persuasion that overcame his/her free will. In California, the court will assume undue influence occurred if the party contesting the gift can prove three elements: (1) the existence of a confidential or fiduciary relationship between the donor and the person allegedly asserting undue influence over the donor, (2) active participation by the alleged influencer in the creation of the transfer document, and (3) an undue benefit on the alleged influencer (typically the receipt of the gift).

A gift may also be contested on the basis of the donor’s lack of mental capacity at the time the gift was made. The court can consider testimony and documentation showing the donor may or may not have been mentally competent to make the gift while alive.

Gift of real estate to family members and caretakers can be complicated and raise red flags that the donor, recipient, or other family members did not intend to face. If you are contemplating giving a gift to a family member or caretaker, receiving a gift from a family member, or contesting a gift to a donor’s family member or caretaker, please contact one of the experienced attorneys at Lonich & Patton. We offer a free half-hour consultations.

Please remember that each individual situation is unique and results discussed in this post are not a guarantee of future results. While this post may detail general legal issues, it is not legal advice. Use of this site does not create an attorney-client relationship.

This article has no comment.

Share |

THE EVOLUTION OF DIVORCE AND PROPERTY DIVISION IN CALIFORNIA

Posted May 31, 2018 in Family Law by Michael Lonich.

California laws for property division in divorce has undergone significant change over the years. Due to its Spanish roots, California began as a community property state, in which all property acquired during the marriage is part of the community thus subject to equal division in divorce. Divorce in California really took off in 1969 when Governor Ronald Reagan signed into law “no-fault” divorce making California one of the first no-fault divorce states. The new law eliminated the need for couples to articulate spousal wrongdoing in pursuit of a divorce. In the decades that ensued, almost every state in America would follow California’s lead and enact “no-fault” divorce of its own. This legal transformation would open the floodgates to divorce in the United States. From 1960 to 1980, the divorce rate more than doubled. With the major influx of California divorce came novel legal questions on how to fairly divide property between divorced spouses. The California legislature and judiciary would create new laws to address these issues.

Perhaps the most landmark amendment to the Family Code is the addition of Family Code §2640, which requires reimbursement of a spouse’s traceable separate property contributions towards the acquisition of community property before division can commence. Under this statute, all separate property used to obtain a property with joint and equal ownership is reimbursable separate property. Moreover, Family Code §2640 states that the spouse who made a separate property contribution is entitled to interest-free reimbursement for the down payment, improvements, and principal, but not an ownership interest. This reimbursement also does not include payments towards taxes, insurance, or maintenance.

Prior to the enactment of this statute, the California Supreme Court presumed that any separate property funds (e.g. money acquired before marriage and inheritances) used to purchase an asset during the marriage was presumed to be a “gift” to the community. This presumption, colloquially referred to as the “Lucas Presumption” precluded a spouse from claiming any interest in a community asset regardless of whether the spouse spent much of his own separate property money to purchase it. In most cases today, the Lucas Presumption no longer applies, thanks to the 1984 California Legislature. However, in certain rare cases for property acquired before the statute, the court will use a two-part analysis to determine whether retroactive application of section 2640 violates due process under the Constitution. First: The significance of the state interest served by the law and the importance of the retroactive application of the law to the effectuation of that interest; and Second: The extent of reliance upon the former law, the legitimacy of that reliance, the extent of actions taken on the basis of that reliance, and the extent to which the retroactive application of the new law would disrupt those actions. (In re Marriage of Heikes (1995) 10 Cal.4th 1211, 1219).

even if the property was acquired after 1984 and either party is entitled to reimbursement under section 2640, it is vital that the necessary records are maintained so that a court can trace the funds from the community asset back to all separate funds. Burden of proof and problems arise if the monies were commingled into a joint account. These issues are especially apt in lengthy marriages where a spouse may not have kept a record of his or her separate contributions. As previously explained in other blog posts, the best way to ensure adequate accounting for separate property assets is to proactively keep an inventory of its rents, issues, and profits. In instances where a community asset is purchased with commingled funds it may still be possible to obtain reimbursement under the method of tracing by recapitulation. Under this method, a court may conclude that the asset was purchased with separate funds if the party can prove that all community funds had been exhausted by community expenses at the time of the transaction.

The date of separation has also undergone significant change in California. The date of separation in a California divorce can play a very important role in determining the division of assets and debts. It can be the difference between whether an asset is community or separate property and whether a marriage is of “long duration” or “short” for purposes of determining spousal support. Initially, the rule was that the date of separation occurred when either spouse did not intend to continue the marriage and their conduct was consistent with the complete and final breakdown of the marriage. Then in July 2015, the California Supreme Court abrogated that rule in a decision called Marriage of Davis. This decision created a bright-line rule making physical separation a necessity to separate. This meant that parties who could not afford to live out on their own were precluded from legal separation. Many family law lawyers, judges and the California legislature did not like this decision. Thus, in 2016 Governor Brown signed into law Family Code section 70 defining separation as the date that a complete and final break in the marital relationship has occurred, as evidenced by (1) a spouse’s intent to end the marriage and (2) conduct of the spouse that is consistent with his or her intent to end the marriage. The law requires courts to take into consideration all relevant evidence.

If you are seeking information or counsel regarding estate planning or protecting your property during divorce, please contact one of the experienced attorneys at Lonich & Patton – we offer free half-hour consultations. We also offer free wills to all of our family law clients during the process of their divorce.

Lastly, please remember that each individual situation is unique, and results discussed in this post are not a guarantee of future results.  While this post may detail general legal issues, it is not legal advice. Use of this site does not create an attorney-client relationship.

This article has no comment.

Share |

PROTECTING YOUR ESTATE DURING DIVORCE

Posted May 4, 2018 in Estate Planning by Michael Lonich.

Going through divorce may be one of the most challenging and stressful ordeals you will experience. There are numerous questions you have to answer, a slew of documents you have to dig up, and brings an incredible amount of emotional turmoil. While you may be ready to forget your ex-spouse completely, do not forget to change your estate plan.  If you have a previous plan, you likely named your ex-spouse as the successor trustee, executor, power of attorney, and/or beneficiary. It is very unlikely that you will want to leave your ex-spouse in that role, making it vital to change your estate plan.

In a revocable trust, the trustor or trustee, not the beneficiary, has control over when and if the benefits are distributed. However, when you die, whomever you named as executor of your will or successor trustee of your trust will have control over when and if the benefits are distributed. It is likely that you would designate your spouse as executor and successor trustee during marriage, so it will be important to have a new estate plan done, in order to designate a new person to fill these rolls. It is your decision who will fill the roles. Your executor or trustee does not need any special training, but must be an organized, prudent, responsible, and honest person. Additionally, you will want to consider who is named as beneficiary on any retirement accounts, life insurance, or additional benefits. If you had named your spouse, you would want to give your estate attorney at least one new person who would be a beneficiary.

While most assets are subject to your estate plan at death, there are some exceptions. These exceptions include life insurance policies, IRAs, and other tax-deferred retirement plans. These are distributed according to beneficiary designations, which override the designation in your will or trust. It is important to update beneficiary designations right after the divorce, if you choose not to during the process, as just updating your estate plan will not affect who gets the benefits of these plans.

Further, if your ex is your agent on your durable power of attorney for property, you should consider changing his/her name immediately to prevent your ex from having unlimited access to bank accounts or financial assets. Additionally, you should name another person as your agent to make health care decisions for you if you are unable to make your own decisions. It is important to also name an alternate agent to act for you if your first choice is not willing, able, or reasonably available to make decisions for you.  You may choose to limit the authority of your agent, but if you choose not to limit his/her authority, they may, but are not limited to, consent or refuse care, treatment, or procedures, agree to tests, surgery, and medication, and designate anatomical gifts. Who you choose to make these decisions should be someone you believe understands and will respect your wishes.

Finally, you may also be wondering how to provide for your minor children in the event of your death, if your ex has no custody rights over them. You should nominate a guardian to supervise and care for your child until he/she is 18 years old. Under California law, a minor child would not be legally qualified to care for him/herself, or to manage his/her own property. You can make the designation in your estate plan.

If you are seeking information or counsel regarding estate planning or protecting your property during divorce, please contact one of the experienced attorneys at Lonich & Patton – we offer free half-hour consultations. We also offer free wills to all of our family law clients during the process of their divorce.

Lastly, please remember that each individual situation is unique, and results discussed in this post are not a guarantee of future results.  While this post may detail general legal issues, it is not legal advice.  Use of this site does not create an attorney-client relationship.

This article has 2 comments.

Share |
Phone:
408.553.0801
Address:
1871 The Alameda, Suite 475
San Jose, CA 95126
Email:
contact@lonichandpatton.com