As Washington is a community property state, many believe that all assets acquired during a marriage are marital property and subject to division in divorce. However, that is not completely true. Some assets may be deemed separate property — such as inherited money.
What if a spouse inherits money?
Recently, a woman sought advice about inherited money, and money in general, due to how it was affecting her marriage. She claimed that she and her husband had kept their finances separate from day one. They split all bills evenly, even though her husband had a higher salary than her.
At some point in the marriage, one of his loved ones passed away and he was gifted money from the estate, which he kept in his bank account. The woman want to know if, as his wife, she should be able to have access to his money since he is the breadwinner.
Every circumstance is different
Some assets that are truly kept separate from marital property are considered separate property in a divorce. Regarding the story shared above, the husband’s earnings would be considered marital property and therefore subject to asset division during a divorce. The inheritance, on the other hand, may be his alone, unless his wife can prove that the money has been commingled and should be considered a shared asset — which doesn’t seem to be the case.
Community property laws in Washington seem very cut and dry, but there are some gray areas when it comes to certain assets. As far as inherited assets are concerned, they typically belong to the spouse who inherited them, unless the funds were put in a shared account and used to benefit the marriage.
When working through the dissolution process, legal counsel can be helpful in achieving a fair property division settlement — which may involve fighting for or protecting assets thought to be separate property.