San Jose Family Law Attorney Comments on recent California appellate opinion Estate of McDaniel
On March 27, 2008, a California court for the third appellate district issued an opinion which held that a wife was not entitled to inherit from her husband’s estate because she was not a surviving spouse within the meaning of section 78 of the Probate Code. In this case, the husband passed away in a motorcycle accident on September 23, 2005. When husband passed away, he and his wife were separated and going through a dissolution proceeding. 2 months prior to his accident, the family court entered a stipulated judgment dissolving the marriage and ordering the marriage terminated, restoring the parties to the status of single persons on October 29, 2005; six months and one day after husband responded in the dissolution action.
According to the stipulated judgment, the parties waived spousal support and agreed on a division of community property and debts. Neither party challenged the Judgment or its legal effect. On August 17, 2006, his mother filed a petition of distribution of husband’s estate alleging that husband had passed away intestate, and that he did not have children. Wife opposed the petition claiming that she was husband’s surviving spouse and therefore entitled to his estate. As it turns out, notwithstanding the stipulated judgment, the parties were attempting to reconcile their differences before their marital partnership terminated.
Section 78 of the Probate Code stated in relevant part that a surviving spouse for purposes of the Probate Code does not include “a person who was a party to a valid proceeding concluded by an order purporting to terminate all marital property rights. “The trial court found that Wife was not a surviving spouse within the meaning of the Probate Code because the partied as entered into a stipulated judgment terminating their marital property rights, and thus, had no right to share in Husband’s estate. Wife appealed, arguing that the stipulated judgment settled property rights, but it did not settle inheritance rights. The appellate court affirmed the trial court’s holding, finding that nothing in the language or meaning of section 78 requires an express termination of inheritance rights; the obvious effect of the statute itself is to terminate inheritance rights of such a spouse. Wife further argued that under the family code, her marital status was not terminated until after husband’s death. The Court found that although Wife was still legally married to Husband at the time of his death, she was not legally his surviving spouse, and therefore not entitled to share in his estate.
The team of attorneys at Sagaria Law, P.C. handles a variety of family law and estate planning cases. If you or someone you know needs assistance with a divorce or estate planning issue, we may be able to assist you. We represent clients throughout the Bay Area and have offices in San Jose, Fremont and Monterey. Contact our office to schedule a free consultation with one of our attorneys today.