I lost my dad when I was 14 years old. Though I was not privy to the legal details I hope that my mom first considered use of a California Probate Code 13650 spousal property petition if there were any assets that she needed to clear title to. It’s a better option than a full probate for most surviving spouses or domestic partners in California. It can be used for both community and separate property and can be used whether your spouse had a will or not. As a probate attorney since 1994 I am often surprised to hear of another probate attorney not offering this option to their clients. I wonder if it’s because the legal fees are much less with an SPP than a full probate.
A Spousal Petition should always be the first petition your attorneys considers when dealing with a surviving spouse or domestic partner. It may not work in every case and may not be the best answer but I always consider it first as it is typically the most economical way to transfer property to the surviving spouse. If your attorney does not mention this option to you, and you are a surviving spouse, you might ask them why. A flat free option is nice as it gives you certainty of what you will spend.
California Probate code section 13500 refers to property passing to the surviving spouse without administration. It specifically provides for distribution to the surviving spouse by will or by intestate succession “and no administration is necessary.” It is true that administration is not necessary if the assets in question are personal in nature, jointly titled or in some other way allow the surviving spouse to automatically claim the asset. However, if the asset is only in the decedent’s name or is real property held in community property (that does not specifically say “with right of survivorship”) then a spousal property petition, pursuant to PC 13650, is likely going to be required to fully clear title to the assets.
The contents of the petition are:
The describing of facts to support why the property passes to the surviving spouse can be as simple as a valid will saying, “I give everything to my surviving spouse….” On the other hand it can get more complicated and involve the distinction of community property and separate property. This is particularly the case if there is no will and the laws of intestacy will apply. Information that might be included would be date of marriage, statement that no dissolution proceeding was started, statement that down payment money (or initial purchase money) used to buy an asset was from joint holdings (i.e. “community property”), statement regarding the source of mortgage payments, and any other information that would help establish the property as being community or separate property.
Notice is given to heirs of the decedent, named devissees in the will, all named executors in the will, personal representative if probate is proceeding and interested parties to trust if surviving spouse is trustee of a trust which is a devisee of the decedent’s will. (California Probate Code section 13655)
The surviving spouse does have personal liability for assets received under this section. They are limited to the deceased’s debts up to the fair market value of property received (minus encumbrances).
With a spousal property petition there is no publication requirement, Letters do not issue, and no bond is required. A petition is prepared and filed with the probate Court. One of two orders are requested:
1) That property transfer from the deceased spouse to the surviving spouse; and/or
2) Confirmation that property is already the community property of the surviving spouse.
A spousal property petition is an election. That is, the surviving spouse can file a full probate if they desire. In some cases it is desirable to file the full probate rather than to utilize the spousal property petition but attorney fees should not be a factor! The reasons for opting for the full probate include dealing with creditors, selling property as a whole unit, ascertaining the proper recipients of assets, control, and administrator’s fees. Additionally, if the decedent’s estate is being distributed to both the surviving spouse and others the community property can be bifurcated from the rest of the probate and distributed directly to the surviving spouse without going through the whole probate process.
A spousal property petition can not be used when the decedent left a pour over will to a trust. This is a surprising result for some people.
Remember property does not have to be community property to fall within a spousal property petition. Any property, community or separate, transferring from the deceased spouse to the surviving spouse qualifies.
Attorney fees are by agreement of the parties. There are no fees for the PR when using this code section.
IF you have any questions about a spousal property petition or any other estate or probate issue, give me a call at 916-920-5983 or fill out the form below or email or text or fax. Or we can set up a Zoom or a Skype to discuss. I look forward to hearing from you.