Spousal support payments are designed to ensure a party has enough money to cover their living
expenses after divorce. An award for spousal support is usually necessary
where one spouse was unemployed during the length of their marriage. In
long term marriages, spousal support payments are calculated to allow
one spouse to enjoy a marital standard of living that the parties grew
accustomed to throughout their marriage. In such cases, if the spouse
receiving support cannot reasonably be expected to secure gainful employment
after divorce, they are entitled to receive spousal support for an indefinite
period of time as they are dependent on their spouse’s income to
maintain their livelihood.
The Effect of Death on Spousal Support
However, what happens when the spouse paying support passes away? Under
Califonia law, a person’s spousal support obligation expires when
they die. The obligation to pay spousal support does not survive to burden
someone’s estate even if the spouse receiving support is still alive.
This rule about spousal support was established to help people comply with
the former alimony tax deduction where a spouse could deduct their spousal
support payments from their federal income taxes. If a spousal support
order or agreement did not by its own terms terminate the obligation upon
the payor’s death, the payor could not deduct their payments under
the alimony tax deduction.
Securing Financial Assistance After the Payor’s Death
Sometimes the payor spouse would die prematurely, causing financial hardship
on a spouse who depended on spousal support payments to pay for their
living expenses. When the spouse died, their support obligation terminated
and the other spouse would be out a major source of income.
The California legislature recognized this dilemma and enacted California
Family Code § 4360 which provides that a spousal support award under
Family Code § 4320 may be calculated to include an amount that would
allow the receiving spouse to fund an annuity or a life insurance policy
taken out on the life of the payor spouse. Alternatively, the payor spouse
could be ordered to create and fund a trust for their former spouse.
An annuity, life insurance policy, or trust would give the spouse receiving
alimony payments a source of income that survived the death of their spouse.
California courts have held that this section does not violate the rule
requiring spousal support payments to terminate at death.
The legislature intended the provision to act as a countermeasure “so
that the supported spouse will not be left without means for support if
the support obligor dies.” The need to secure the benefits of spousal
support posthumously is, therefore, a factor the court is required to
make when calculating an initial award for spousal support.
Consult Hanson, Gorian, Bradford & Hanich Today
Are you facing a divorce that would end a longterm marriage? If so, you
might be entitled to certain a spousal support award that covers premium
payments for an annuity or life insurance policy, so you aren’t
left without financial means of supporting yourself after your spouse’s
death. At Hanson, Gorian, Bradford & Hanich, our legal team is dedicated
to making sure you and your family’s interests are not overlooked
by opposing counsel and the court.
For a consultation about your legal rights and options, call us at (951)
contact us online today.