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Division of marital debts may not survive death

Many California couples who go through divorce find themselves focused on the tangible and intangible assets they shared with their spouses during the property division phase of their separations. Some forget that in addition to those assets they must also divide their collective liabilities. They may choose to arrange payment of those obligations however they see fit through the division of marital debts portion of their property division agreement.

These personal agreements can work quite well as long as the individuals subject to them can agree to their terms. However, when one of the formerly married individuals' dies and the debts he was responsible for paying are not fulfilled, problems can occur. In these cases the surviving ex-spouse may once again become responsible for debts he or she incurred while previously married.

Property division agreements are agreements between individuals and not agreements with the individuals' lenders. This means that lenders do not have to abide by the terms of such documents and can pursue payments even if a particular debtor has not made payments in many years. In California, the state's community property laws enable creditors to engage in such actions since property and debts acquired after marriage are considered shared between the spouses.

There are ways to avoid such legal and financial headaches but being proactive requires planning. Many people do not possess the time or energy to fully explore their options for creating divorce property settlements. For this reason they often turn to legal experts in the divorce field for help.

Divorce attorneys receive special training to anticipate issues and to coach their clients through the trials of managing financial decisions. They can provide their clients with guidance to get through disputes as well as up-to-date information on the current state of California property law. Such guidance can be immensely important to avoid the difficult and sometimes costly problems that can arise when an ex-spouse passes away and leaves a former partner with debt.

Source: News Channel 3, "Your dead ex-spouse's debt can still haunt you," Matt Knight, June 28, 2014

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