Probate in Washington

Chapter 6: The Trump Cards

When Sara and Joe got married, they didn’t have much and all they really wanted was to make sure that the other one was able to use what was left behind.  They went to the stationery store (or in today’s world, they went online) and found a Community Property Agreement. Sometimes called the Poor Man’s Will, this simple document says something like this:

     1.  Everything we own is Community Property, regardless of where it came from

     2.  At the moment of death, everything transfers completely to whichever one of us survives

     3.  This is a contract and it is valid until we both agree that we no longer want it. 

It’s pretty straightforward. It seemed like the right thing when they were younger and poorer. Time went on, and Sara inherited money. They drifted apart and were barely speaking towards the end. Sara went to an attorney, wrote a new Will and left Joe out of the picture, giving her family inheritance to her niece and nephew. When she died, the niece and nephew expected to get the family inheritance.  They took the Will to Court, and notified Joe.  Who wins here?  Unfortunately, that Community Property Agreement couldn’t be avoided. It’s a trump card. Joe took the inheritance that came from Sara’s family.

George’s Will said, among other things, that he wanted his life insurance from work to go to his new fiancé.  He died before they could be married.  Before he’d met the fiancé, he’d gone into the benefits office at work, and designated the life insurance to his widowed mother. Who wins here? Remember, life insurance is a contract, and the terms of the contract tell us who gets the proceeds.  Although there are some cases where we can overcome the beneficiary designations, this isn’t one of them. Mother gets the money. But what if they had been married?  The result would have been different. Marriage brings lots of benefits, including the benefits of Community Property. If they’d been married, since the policy was paid for by George’s work efforts, his wife would have a Community Property interest and she should be able to claim 50% of the policy proceeds.