What Constitutes Community Property in Washington?
Washington is one of nine community property states.*  This means that certain property in a marriage or domestic partnership is owned jointly by the spouses or partners.   It is important to know what property in a marriage is held separately, and what property is held as community property since a spouse or partner cannot bequeath more than one-half of the community property.  

What constitutes community property in Washington?
  Any property that is acquired after a marriage is considered community property.  It includes 1) all earnings acquired during the marriage by the wife, 2) all earnings acquired during the marriage by the husband, 3) all property acquired during the marriage with those earnings, and 4) any property acquired with “community funds.”   

What constitutes separate property in Washington?
Property that is owned by a spouse before a marriage is considered the separate property of that spouse.   Additionally, any property that is acquired after a marriage with the rent or profits from property that was owned before the marriage is also considered separate property.   For example, let’s say husband owned a rental property before the marriage.  After the marriage he purchased a car with the rental income from that property.  Both the rental property and the car are the separate property of the husband.   Gifts or inheritances acquired during the marriage are also separate property (as long as they are gifted specifically to one person), as are any rents or profits that come from them.  So if wife’s uncle left her a beach-front property in his will, it would be considered the separate property of the wife.  The rental income that came from the property would also be the wife’s separate property.  

Can my separate property turn into community property?
It is generally presumed that separate property is intended by the spouses or partners to remain separate.  It is possible, however, for separate property to “lose” its status.  This can happen if: 1) spouses or partners co-mingle funds so completely with community funds that they can no longer be distinguished as separate, or 2) both spouses or partners express a clear intention to have all separate property become community property.  This can be accomplished through a Community Property Agreement.  These agreements, however, do present some disadvantages.  So it is imperative that you consult with your attorney, to make sure this approach will meet your needs.   

What if we move from a “separate property state” to a “community property state?”
Property that is brought by a couple into a “community property state” from a “separate property state” remains separate property.  For example, if husband and wife move from Oregon (a separate property state) to Washington (a community property state), all the property earned in Oregon by the wife is her separate property and all the property earned in Oregon by the husband is his separate property.  (An exception to this is if the husband “gifts” his property to the wife, or vice versa).      




* The others are Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, and Wisconsin.  Alaska is an “opt-in” state, allowing parties the option of making their property community property.