Community property makes Washington different.

This blog entry will be a short introduction to Community Property law (very short indeed).  This is a complex and challenging subject, so we will confine the scope of the discussion quite a bit.

Types of Property Law for married Folks, Generally.

Community Property in the foundation of Estate Planning for the married couple
Marital community represents strength
and togetherness

There are two different systems for classifying marital property in the United States: 1) common law property, and 2) community property. The common law system is far and away the most prevalent. Washington uses the lesser known community system. It is one of nine U.S. states that classify marital property using this doctrine. Each of these nine states state operate their own version of community property law with subtle differences between the others. Washington’s version of community property law has significant differences with the body of law California uses, for instance.

Which U.S. States use Community Property law?

The states that utilize community property law are Arizona, California, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, and Wisconsin. It is no coincidence that many of the states operating under this property law regime are in the western and southern regions of the United States. Most of the territory making up these states was once under Spanish control before the west was completely populated and converted to United States Territory. In most of these states, the community property law that they now observe are left-over remnants of the old Spanish law that once governed these areas. The other 41 states operate under a common law marital property regime. This included the state between California and Washington. Curiously, Oregon is a common law state while the rest of the West Coast is not.

What is community property?

Community property can be defined as all property acquired during a marriage that cannot be proven to be separate property. Separate property is any property acquired prior to the marriage, and property that is received during the marriage that is a gift or inheritance. There are various exceptions and rules that govern these two types of property classification but these definitions give you the general idea. As you may have picked up on already, any property acquired during the marriage will be presumed to be community property. To overcome this presumption, there must be clear and convincing evidence that the property is separate property – a standard that is hard to achieve.

There are several aspects of community property law that are very important in Estate Planning. If you are looking to hire an estate planning attorney to perform this type of work for you, be sure they have a good understanding of all types of property law, including community. This is a key body of law that applies to several other areas of the law; a lawyer without this fundamental skill in the state of Washington is working without all the necessary tools for the job. In later blog entries, I will discuss some of the main areas of Estate Planning that can be impacted by the unique aspects of community property law in Washington. Examples include how real property is titled, the step-up of basis upon death of the first spouse, what happens when there is no will, and community property agreements.

More to come

I hope you’ll continue to stay tuned to learn more about this fascinating and important area of the law.  At Westward Law, our estate planning lawyer can help you with your estate planning involving community property in Mount Vernon, Bellingham ,Everett, or Mukilteo Washington.

Book your Strategy Session

Remember, Washington is a community property state and your estate planner needs to begin crafting the estate plan of a married couple with these laws built into the foundation.