If my wife caused a car accident and there is a wrongful death suit coming up, are my personal non-community assets in jeopardy?

Asked on December 5, 2011 under Accident Law, California

Answers:

L.P., Member, Pennsylvania and New Jersey Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 8 years ago | Contributor

Thank you for submitting your question regarding your any potential liability you may have for being financially responsible for a wrongful death judgment against your spouse.  The answer to this question would depend greatly on the laws of your state.  The laws for how property can be legally held by spouses can vary from state to state. 

There are several ways that property can be titled and legally held between spouses.  While most people assume that once you get married everything is shared, this is not always the case.  If your real property is held in your sole name by “tenancy by the entirety,” you own the property in whole.  This means that your spouse does not have a legal interest in the property.  This tenancy is only for real property and does not apply to personal property.  Therefore, other assets of personal property could be subject to your spouse’s debt.  Even though you may have purchased a piece of personal property, it does not mean that it is not marital property.  A family law attorney in your area would be able to assist you with determining what property is legal yours alone and your wife holds no legal interest.

Additionally, assuming that your wife has an attorney for her wrongful death action, they should be able to provide guidance as to what property a judgment against your wife could attach to.  Finding out before the judgment might help to protect your interest in your property.  Once the judgment is ordered you may have limited many of your options.

 


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