Even on Valentine’s Day, It’s Good to Know Who Owns What in Marriage

Just married couple together in an old car

You’re getting ready for a romantic, candlelight dinner. Look around. If you and your partner are married, or about to be married, or thinking of getting married, it’s good to know this: In Washington State (and the other “community property” states), half of what you own as a married couple legally belongs to you and half to your partner, with some exceptions. Yes, even that Arts and Crafts dining room set you bought with your RSUs (restricted stock units) from your job.

The community property states are: Washington, California, Arizona,  Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas and Wisconsin. Alaska, going its own way, sees community property as an elective choice to be made by the couple.

Community Property in Washington State: The Ground Rules

All property acquired during a valid marriage or state registered domestic partnership is presumed to be community property. (That’s in the Revised Code of Washington, RCW 26.16.030, if you’d like to look it up). This applies to property you acquire while living in Washington, even if you were married in a non-community property state. The exceptions to this definition are property that is:

  • Acquired as a gift or inheritance, and the income from that
  • Personal injury awards for pain and suffering
  • Very intimate personal items, e.g. clothing and jewelry
  • Gifts from one spouse to another

All these exceptions are considered separate property. In addition to the exceptions above that may be acquired during marriage, separate property includes all property that was owned by each spouse (or partner) prior to the marriage (or partnership) – as well as the income from that and any appreciation in value. A couple might choose to convert any separate property into community property by making a written agreement. It’s up to you.

In this e-book, we provide an overview on community property laws in Washington State and what you need to know in case of separation/divorce, the death of a spouse, creditor disputes and taxes. We also discuss the four types of property recognized by Washington State law: community property, separate property, quasi-community property, and community-like property. This is information all married couples should know, and which we take into account when advising clients about property titling and estate planning, including the creation of trusts.