What Happens to Spousal Support Payments After My Former Spouse Dies?

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) 987-6003 or contact us online today.

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