Dear Liz: I live in California and have been married for 20 years. My spouse bought our home before our marriage and my name is not on the title as a co-owner. However, I contribute to most of our monthly financial obligations which include paying the mortgage, property taxes, etc. In the event of death or separation, how much of the current home equity am I entitled to? This is our only and primary residence.
Answer: Normally, an asset that was purchased before marriage is considered separate property even in community property states such as California. But if the mortgage is paid down with “community funds” — money earned by either spouse during the marriage — then the spouse who isn’t on the title may be entitled to some of the appreciation that occurs after the wedding.
That may not prevent you from being evicted if your spouse dies, however, or having to fight an expensive battle in court if you divorce. Consulting an attorney now could help you better prepare for either possibility.
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