Community property is a principle of law applicable in Washington and eight other states. In these states, a spouse or registered domestic partner owns 50% of all property acquired during the marriage or domestic partnership. Unless the couple has agreed otherwise in writing, this will include money earned during the marriage or domestic partnership and anything purchased with that money. However, if one person receives property as a gift or an inheritance, or obtained it before the marriage or domestic partnership, that property is considered separate property.
Washington law allows a husband and wife or domestic partners to sign and notarize a community property agreement, a document that automatically transfers an individual's community property shares at his or her death to his or her spouse or registered domestic partner.
To avoid probate after the first spouse or registered domestic partner dies, the agreement must state that all property, including any property acquired by either person after the document is signed, is community property. This means that later gifts and inheritances will also become community property. After the first person dies, the survivor has total control of the community property. When the survivor dies, he or she may distribute the property however he or she wants: the survivor is not required to consider the preferences of the deceased spouse or domestic registered domestic partner.
There are certain limitations on community property agreements. You can't use a community property agreement to appoint a guardian for your minor children, or to avoid probate when the second person dies. In addition, the document can't be revoked unless both spouses or partners agree. If you wish to learn more about community property agreements, please contact an attorney in your area.