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Marital Property laws

Information on the law about Marital Property

Marital property is generally considered to be all property acquired by a couple during their marriage or earned by either spouse during their marriage. It is all property owned by the marital estate. Generally, gifts or inheritances to either spouse along with any money or property earned prior to the marriage are the separate property of that spouse unless it is somehow "converted" into marital property.

There are two general categories that define marital property: community property and not community property. Nine states recognize community property. In these states, all property or income acquired by either spouse during marriage is considered equally owned by both spouses for purposes of the division of the property upon death or divorce or for purposes of business transacted by either spouse. This property ownership scheme has its roots in Spanish Law. Consequently, community property laws are found generally in those states that were originally possessions of or which in some way owe some of their legal heritage to colonial Spain.

If a state is not a community property state, various rules and schemes apply to define the nature of marital property. For example, there are a number of legal options from which a couple may choose when they decide to acquire property together. They may choose joint tenancy, tenancy by the entirety, or tenancy-in-common. In most states, the character of the property in question is determined by the nature of the property itself, the nature of the event giving rise to the need for the particular characterization of property ownership, and the manner, agreement, and instrument by which it was acquired. If the event giving rise to the need for the characterization is divorce, a set of rules will apply to each portion of the marital property, depending on how it was acquired and what kind of property it is: bank account, primary home, automobile, etc.

Upon an individual's death, property will be distributed subject to the individual's legal will or trust, the rules of marital property, and/or intestate succession. A very old common law scheme of division of marital property is known as "dower and curtesy." Dower was a way that a woman, who traditionally was not given the opportunity to own property while married, was given a share of her husband's estate upon his death. Dower generally preserved a percentage share of the value of the estate. Curtesy is essentially the same system in reverse, giving the husband a percentage share of his wife's estate. However, dower and curtesy has generally become obsolete in the modern world. Laws of descent and distribution, divorce and property distribution, and use of joint tenancies, tenancies-in-common, and tenancies by the entirety have largely made it unnecessary to be concerned with the surviving spouse being left with no part of the marital property.

Eleven states have adopted the Uniform Disposition of Community Property Rights at Death Act (UDCPRDA). This protects couples that move from a community property state into one where community property is not recognized, from drastic changes in the character and disposition of their property upon the death of a spouse. This is an important consideration in today's highly mobile society.

Table 28: Marital Property

State Community Property Dower And Curtesy
ALABAMA No Dower and curtesy abolished (§43-8-57)
ALASKA Yes. Community Property Act §34.77.030 Curtesy: Uniform Probate Code adopted (§§13.06.005, et seq.); dower has been abolished
ARIZONA Yes (§25-211) Dower and curtesy abolished (§1-201)
ARKANSAS No, but Uniform Disposition of Community Property Rights at Death Act (UDCPRDA) adopted. (§§28-12-101, et seq.) Dower allowed; common law curtesy abolished; statutory allowance called curtesy provided (§28-11-301 et seq.)
CALIFORNIA Yes (Fam. C. §751 §770) No estate by dower or curtesy (Prob. C. §6412)
COLORADO No. But Uniform Disposition of Community Property Rights at Death Act (UDCPRDA) adopted. (§§15-20-101, et seq.) Curtesy and dower abolished (§15-11-112)
CONNECTICUT No, but Uniform Disposition of Community Property Rights at Death Act (UDCPRDA) adopted. (§§45a-458, et seq.) No dower or curtesy when marriage occurred after April 20, 1877 (§46b-36)
DELAWARE No Dower and curtesy abolished (12§511)
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA No Dower and curtesy abolished (§19-102)
FLORIDA No, but Uniform Disposition of Community Property Rights at Death Act (UDCPRDA) adopted. (§§732.216, et seq.) Dower and curtesy abolished (§732.111); statutory right to elective share of surviving spouse recognized (§§732.201, et seq.)
GEORGIA No Dower and curtesy abolished (§53-1-3)
HAWAII No, but Uniform Disposition of Community Property Rights at Death Act (UDCPRDA) adopted. (§§510-21, et seq.) Statutory right to elective share of surviving spouse recognized. (Uniform Probate Code §§560:2-201, et seq.)
IDAHO Yes (§32-906) Curtesy and dower abolished (§32-914)
ILLINOIS No Dower and curtesy abolished as of 1/1/72 (755 ILCS 5/2-9)
INDIANA No Dower and curtesy abolished (§29-1-2-11)
IOWA No Curtesy abolished (§633.238); dower abolished (§633.211)
KANSAS No Dower and curtesy abolished (§59-505)
KENTUCKY No, but Uniform Disposition of Community Property Rights at Death Act (UDCPRDA) adopted. (§§391.210, et seq.) Yes, with exceptions (§§392.010, et seq.)
LOUISIANA Yes, with considerable exceptions (CC Art. 2334, et seq.) Unknown to the law of Louisiana
MAINE No Dower and curtesy abolished (T.18-A, §2-113)
MARYLAND No Dower and curtesy abolished (Est. & Tr. Art.§3-202)
MASSACHUSETTS No Curtesy abolished (Ch. 189, §1), but certain dower and curtesy rights (merged and together called "dower") remain

Table 28: Marital Property—Continued

State Community Property Dower And Curtesy
MICHIGAN No, but Uniform Disposition of Community Property Rights at Death Act (UDCPRDA) adopted. (§§557.261, et seq.) Dower (§§558.1, et seq.); no curtesy or dower allowed in community property (§557.214)
MINNESOTA No Provides for actions based on dower and curtesy or interest in lieu of same (§519.101)
MISSISSIPPI No Dower and curtesy abolished (§93-3-5)
MISSOURI No Dower and curtesy abolished (§474.110)
MONTANA No, but Uniform Disposition of Community Property Rights at Death Act (UDCPRDA) adopted. (§§72-9-101, et seq.) Dower and curtesy abolished (§72-2-122)
NEBRASKA No. unless can prove otherwise (§42-603) Dower and curtesy abolished (§30-104)
NEVADA Yes (§§123.130, 220, 230) Dower and curtesy abolished (§123.020)
NEW HAMPSHIRE No Dower and curtesy abolished (Ch. 560:3)
NEW JERSEY No Dower and curtesy abolished as to all property obtained after May 28, 1980 (3B:28-2); some rights exist re property obtained before that date (3B:28-1, et seq.)
NEW MEXICO Yes (§§40-3-6, et seq.) Dower and curtesy abolished (§45-2-112)
NEW YORK No, but Uniform Disposition of Community Property Rights at Death Act (UDCPRDA) adopted. (Estates, Powers and Trusts Laws §§6-6.1, et seq.) Certain dower rights for widow of marriage before September 1, 1930 (Real Property Law §§190, 190b); curtesy abolished (Real Property Law §189—certain rights remain for widower of woman who died on or before August 31, 1930)
NORTH CAROLINA No, however Uniform Disposition of Community Property Rights at Death Act adopted (§§31C-1, et seq.) Dower and curtesy abolished (§29-4)
NORTH DAKOTA No Dower and curtesy abolished (§14-07-09)
OHIO No Dower (§§2103.02; et seq.; 3105.10); curtesy abolished (§2103.09), husband has dower interest
OKLAHOMA Repealed (§43-215) Dower and curtesy abolished (§84-214)
OREGON Repealed effective April 11, 1949 (§108.520), but Uniform Disposition of Community Property Rights at Death Act (UDCPRDA) adopted. (§§112.705, et seq.) Dower and curtesy abolished for surviving spouse of person who dies after July 1, 1970 (§§112.685-695)
PENNSYLVANIA No. State Supreme Court held community property law (§§48-201, et seq.) invalid under state constitution (357 Pa. 581, 55 A.2d 521) Share of spouse's estate which is allotted to surviving spouse by rules of intestate succession or by election against will is in lieu and full satisfaction of dower or curtesy at common law (§§20-2105)
RHODE ISLAND No Dower and curtesy abolished (§33-25-1)
SOUTH CAROLINA No Dower barred for divorced wife (§20-3-190)
SOUTH DAKOTA No Dower and curtesy abolished (§25-2-9)
TENNESSEE No Dower and curtesy, unless vested, abolished as of April 1, 1977 (§31-2-102)

Table 28: Marital Property—Continued

State Community Property Dower And Curtesy
TEXAS Yes (Fam. C. §§3.001–§§3.104; Prob. C. §§38, 45) Does not exist
UTAH No No dower and curtesy rights (§75-2-112)
VERMONT No Dower and curtesy rights set forth in §§ 14-461 to 474
VIRGINIA No, but Uniform Disposition of Community Property Rights at Death Act (UDCPRDA) adopted. (§§64.1-197, et seq.) Dower and curtesy abolished unless vested before January 1, 1991 (§64.1-19.2)
WASHINGTON Yes (§26.16.030) Dower and curtesy abolished (§11.04.060)
WEST VIRGINIA No Dower and curtesy abolished (§43-1-1)
WISCONSIN Adopted Uniform Marital Property Act with variations on January 1, 1986 (§§766.31) No dower or curtesy rights exist
WYOMING No, but Uniform Disposition of Community Property Rights at Death Act (UDCPRDA) adopted. (§2-7-720) Dower and curtesy abolished (§2-4-101)(b))

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