Estate Planning: Community Property Agreement

Washington is a community property state, which means that all property in the state of Washington is either community property or separate property. Separate property is that which is owned before the marriage or received as a gift or inheritance during the marriage. All other property acquired during marriage as a result of your labor is community property.

A Community Property Agreement is a special Washington statutory contract between a husband and wife, that can do one or all of three different provisions. First, it can declare that all property presently owned is community property, converting all separate property to community property. Secondly, it can declare that all property acquired in the future to be community property, converting any future gifts or inheritances to community property. If you want to preserve separate property, you would not want to make these provisions. Thirdly, it can provide that on the death of the first spouse, all community property vests in the surviving spouse. If you have made the first two provisions, this would include all of the property. Under the statutory provisions, this allows the property to vest in the surviving spouse without having to go through probate, saving a substantial amount of time and money in clearing the estate.

After the death of a spouse, assets still need to be cleared into the name of the surviving spouse. For real property (land and house), the Community Property Agreement and a short declaration should be recorded in the County where the property is situated. With a copy of the Community Property Agreement, Death Certificate and title documents, virtually all other titled assets can be simply transferred.