Spousal support is meant to help a financially disadvantaged party maintain a standard of living to which they grew accustomed during the marriage. Spousal support obligations that seem to be in effect for an indefinite amount of time are primarily applicable to long term marriages, where one spouse cannot reasonably be expected to find gainful employment to support themselves due to their advanced age, for example. However, the livelihood of a spouse who depends on spousal support as the primary means of maintaining financial security is put in danger when the payor spouse dies early. This article discusses California’s solution to this predicament.
Spousal Support Terminates Upon Death
As a general rule, spousal support obligations terminate upon the death of the payor spouse. An order to require payments from a spouse’s estate after their death is not considered a valid spousal support order. This rule is vital to ensure that spousal support payments qualify for the alimony tax deduction. However, under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, spousal support obligations that are established in 2019 are no longer tax deductible for the payor spouse.
California Family Code § 4360
Under California law, spousal support obligations still end when the payor spouse passes away. However, this can create a problem for spouses who rely on such payments as the primary means of supporting their livelihood. If the payor spouse passes away, the supported spouse will be left without any means to support themselves.
Section 4360 of the California Family Code carves out a way for people to secure the benefits of spousal support after the death of the payor spouse. This provision was specifically designed “so that the supported spouse will not be left without means for support if the support obligor dies.”
Under section 4360, the court may calculate a spousal support obligation to include an amount “sufficient to purchase an annuity for the supported spouse or to maintain insurance for the benefit of the supported spouse of the life of the spouse required to make the payment of support, or may require the spouse required to make the payment of support to establish a trust to provide for the support of the supported spouse…”
For example, a spousal support obligation may include enough money for the supported spouse to fund an annuity that will make regular payments even after the payor spouse passes away. Alternatively, the amount of a spousal support award may include an amount the allows the supported spouse to pay premiums for a life insurance policy taken out on the payor spouse’s life.
Another alternative involves a court order requiring someone to fund a trust for the benefit of their spouse to ensure they receive payments after the payor spouse’s death.
This provision is particularly beneficial to older divorcees, where the spouse required to make spousal support payments has an illness or condition that will likely cut their life short.
Contact the Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Graff for Effective Counsel
For some people, spousal support payments are the primary means of financial security for their living expenses. While it may not be ideal to depend on your former spouse to obtain the necessaries of life, it might be the only option. At the Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Graff, our team – led by Attorney Jeffrey Graff – can help ensure that your livelihood won’t be endangered by the untimely demise of your former spouse.
If you have questions about your legal rights and options regarding spousal support, call the Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Graff at (805) 633-4999 or contact us online today.