Property owned equally by both spouses.
While you do not have to enter all of your belongings into the marriage equally (it is possible for spouses to maintain separate bank accounts even after they have been married) there is some property that is owned by both people. Generally, this is the property that was purchased or earned after the marriage had already taken place. The property is called community property and it is owned equally by both husband and wife. Since both spouses own the property, upon the death of one of the members of the marriage, the spouse will own the property fully.
This is one reason why many people decide to get married. If you are married, then it is assumed by default that any property purchased during the marriage is community property. There are a few exceptions to this rule, however. For instance, while the community property will include most of your assets – real estate, possessions, and any stock and bonds that you might own – gifts are excluded.
Depending on which state you live in, this could have some effects on your marriage. While there are states that use different criteria to determine what happens during a divorce, in states like Washington, Texas or Idaho, all of the community property is separated equally between the spouses after a divorce. This is usually the reason why most of the real estate has to be sold during a divorce – there is absolutely no way to separate the assets equally without selling the house and splitting the money.
Community property is also not the case everywhere – in some situations, the spouses might own whatever they earn and not submit to the community property. If you are not sure about whether or not what you and your spouse own is community property, then you should definitely talk to a lawyer or get information that is specific to your state.
Community property is also different from a joint tenancy. Since the spouses only own half of the community property, after the death of one spouse, half of the property will go to the surviving member of the marriage, and the rest will be given to heirs.