What happens to an inheritance in a divorce?

| Feb 3, 2021 | Family Law | 0 comments

In terms of divorce law, Washington is a community property state. That means that courts consider everything that a couple acquired during their marriage as owned equally by each spouse. A divorce court will divide all these community assets so that each former spouse walks away with an equal share of the couple’s assets and debts. 

Under the law, anything that is not community property is “separate property.” Courts do not include separate property when calculating the equal property division in a divorce. 

What is separate property?

Under Washington law, separate property includes any property that a spouse owned before getting married and any property that a spouse acquires during the marriage as a gift or inheritance. Because the law specifically mentions inherited property, courts usually find inheritances to be separate property. If the court rules an inheritance is separate property, it continues to belong to the inheriting spouse. The other spouse does not receive any extra property to equal the value of the inheritance. 

What is commingling?

Courts often rule that an inheritance is separate property unless the inheritance has been “commingled” with community (marital) property. Examples of commingling might be: 

  • A spouse inherits money and deposits it into a joint bank account, or uses it to pay joint bills 
  • A spouse inherits a house and both spouses move into it 
  • A spouse inherits land and uses marital funds to pay the property taxes 

While the inheriting spouse usually gets to keep his or her inheritance in a divorce, but there are no guarantees. It is ultimately up to the judge to decide how to fairly divide all a couple’s assets.