Under Washington State law, all of a person’s property falls into one of these categories: community property, separate property, community-like property, or quasi-community property. Courts use these property categories to make decisions about property in several types of legal cases, including probate cases.
While community property is a category that only applies to property in a marriage or state registered domestic partnership, community-like property is the property acquired by unmarried couples who live together during what Washington courts call “committed intimate relationships.” Courts in Washington have extend the community-like property characterization to property of those in committed intimate relationships so they can make a just and equitable division of property when the relationship ends.
To determine whether or not a relationship is a committed intimate relationship, a court analyzes the following factors:
- continuous cohabitation;
- the duration of the relationship;
- the purpose of the relationship;
- the pooling of resources; and
- the intent of the parties.
The court will analyze all of these factors in making its determination. If the court determines that a committed intimate relationship exists or existed, it will then determine the interest of each party in the property acquired during the relationship and make a just and equitable division of that property.
When a person who has been in a committed intimate relationship passes away, some or all of their property may be characterized as community-like property if the surviving member of the relationship successfully files a claim to establish the existence of a committed intimate relationship and the presence of community-like property. Such a claim, if successful, would interfere with the deceased person’s attempts to give the community-like property to some other beneficiary using a will or an alternative to a will.
If you are in a committed intimate relationship, be aware that your significant other will not automatically inherit property from you if you do not make a will the way a surviving spouse or surviving domestic partner would under the laws of intestacy. Instead, your significant other would have to file a legal claim and prove the existence of a committed intimate relationship as well as the existence of community-like property, which would be both time-consuming and expensive.
If you have been in a committed intimate relationship such that some of your property may be considered community-like property, be aware that gifts you make of that property may fail to the extent that a court determines that the property belongs to the person with whom you had a committed intimate relationship.