Does a trust transfer deed change the character of property between spouses in a California dissolution of marriage?

It is settled California law that there are presumptions effecting the characterization of property. Property acquired during the marriage is presumptively community property whereas property acquired prior to or after the marriage is presumptively separate property. Spouse can change the characterization of property between each other by means of a transmutation agreement (written agreement) There are certain writings that meet this criteria of a transmutation and certain writings do not. The Court found in Marriage of Begian vs. Sarajian (1/4/19), that a “Trust Transfer Deed” granting real property to Wife did not meet the transmutation requirements.

The trial court determined the document’s use of the words “grant” and “gift” satisfied the requirement, because those terms have “an accepted historical meaning” in real property transactions, and thus gave the husband “clear notice” that he was changing the property’s characterization and ownership. Notwithstanding the historical meaning of these terms, we conclude that without an express statement specifying what interest in the property was granted to Ida, the reference to a “Trust Transfer” leaves the document’s purpose ambiguous, and thus renders the purported transmutation invalid under section 852(a).

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