Nevada is one of only nine community property states. So it shouldn’t surprise anyone that community property is an area of law not widely understood.
Community property consists of all assets over which each spouse in a marriage has an equal and undivided 50% ownership interest. All property acquired during marriage is considered community property, and any spouse challenging that presumption bears the burden of proving otherwise. If an asset isn’t community property, then it’s separate property, which means that one spouse has exclusive ownership. Generally, an asset is separate property if one of the spouses acquired it before the marriage or acquired it by gift or inheritance during the marriage.
By way of example, a car purchased during marriage with community property funds (such as money earned during the marriage or money in a joint checking account) is likely to be deemed community property, even if the car is titled in just one of the spouse’s names.
Of course, it’s possible for community property assets to be changed to separate property assets and vice-versa. This process is called transmutation. Transmutation can occur by means of an agreement signed by both spouses, a gift from one spouse to the other, or commingling separate property with community property. For example, if a wife transfers her 50% ownership interest in the couple’s marital home to her husband, the transfer could be viewed as a gift, thereby rendering the home his sole and separate property.
The distinctions between community and separate property can have major implications in the areas of estate planning, asset protection, intestate succession, debt collection, bankruptcy, and family law, among others. So be wise and plan carefully. An experienced attorney can assist you to navigate through the many nuances and pitfalls of community property law.
Mr. Woodbury is the managing shareholder of Woodbury Law. He can be reached at (702) 933-0777, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.