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California Code of Civil Procedure (CCP) Section 377.60 describes three groups of people who may assert a cause of action for wrongful death:

surviving spouse,

domestic partner,

children, and

issue (lineal descendants) of deceased children, or,

if there is no surviving issue of the decedent, the persons, including the surviving spouse or domestic partner, who would be entitled to the property of the decedent by intestate succession.”

the putative spouse,

…`putative spouse' means the surviving spouse of a void or voidable marriage who is found by the court to have believed in good faith that the marriage to the decedent was valid.

children of the putative spouse,

stepchildren, or


Dependant Defined: …"dependence refers to financial support", that is "actually dependent, to some extent, upon the decedent for the necessaries of life." i.e.,  financial support "which aids them in obtaining the things, such as shelter, clothing, food and medical treatment, which one cannot and should not do without." (Chavez v. Carpenter (2001) 91 Cal.App.4th 1433, 1445, 1447; Hazelwood v. Hazelwood (1976) 57 Cal.App.3d 693, 697-698).


A putative spouse is a surviving spouse who is “found by the court to have [objectively] believed in good faith that the marriage to the decedent was valid.” [CCP § 377.60(b); Welch v. State of California (2000) 83 Cal.App.4th 1374, 1377-1379 -- "good faith" belief in validity of "common law" marriage not sufficient because appellant “made no attempt whatsoever to comply with the procedural requirements for a lawful California marriage….[and],  having been legally married and divorced twice, must have been aware of these requirements.”]


But an adopted child may not sue for biological parent's death. [Phraner v. Cote Mart, Inc. (1997) 55 Cal.App.4th 166, 169-171-- “Julia's adoption by the Phraners severed her parent-child relationship with Todd. She was not Todd's child within the meaning of section 377.60, and does not have standing to bring a wrongful death action for Todd's death.”]


Disclaimer: This is a general article.  This area of the law can be highly complex.  Many issues can arise that were not discussed.  This article is not to be relied on a legal advice.  If you desire legal advice, consult or retain a lawyer regarding the specifics of your situation. Further Disclaimer.

 Author: Attorney Matthew B. Tozer
Copyright 2017

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