Under Washington law, all of a person’s property is characterized as community property, separate property, community-like property, or quasi-community property. These property characterizations affect the rights and interests of a surviving spouse or partner with respect to how property will pass upon the decedent’s death.
If a married person or a person in a state registered domestic partnership lives in the State of Washington, then that person’s income and property and the income and property of that person’s spouse or partner that is acquired during the marriage (or partnership) is generally characterized as community property.
In the event that a spouse or domestic partner acquires property while living outside of Washington and such property would be community property if it had been acquired while living in Washington, then the property may be characterized as quasi-community property under Washington law.1 Under these circumstances, personal property (household goods, income, vehicles, etc.) is always characterized as quasi-community property, no matter where the property was acquired or is located at the time of death. The characterization of real property (an interest in land) depends on the laws of where the property is located. Some states defer to the laws of the state where the property owner is domiciled and some states apply their own laws. In the case of the former, Washington law will apply and the property will be characterized as quasi-community property.
If quasi-community property is transferred to a third party within three years before the death of the decedent without adequate consideration (i.e., below fair market value) or without the consent of the surviving spouse or partner, then the surviving spouse or partner can make a timely claim against the estate to recover a one-half interest in the property, half of the proceeds from its sale, or half of the fair market value at the time of transfer.3