When couples divorce in Washington state, the court considers most of their assets community property and will divide them fairly.
However, if you received an inheritance during your marriage, the court may regard these assets differently.
Inheritances generally qualify as separate property
In most states, including Washington, inheritances and income derived from them are separate property. This means you can keep them after you divorce. However, for many couples, separate property does not remain separate.
What you do with your inheritance matters
When you inherit money or property, it remains your own separate property, even if you inherit it while married. If you sell or rent it, the proceeds are also separate property.
However, there are scenarios in which the court may consider all or part of your inheritance to be marital property. For example:
- You inherit a house and you and your spouse move into it.
- You use inherited money to buy a house for you and your spouse.
- You inherit an antique car or furniture and spend money to restore it.
- You deposit inherited funds into a joint bank account.
These are just a few of the ways that separate property can become marital property. This is also known as commingling.
Dividing a commingled inheritance can be challenging
Once assets are commingled, dividing them can be difficult. If, for example, you deposit inherited funds into a joint account, the court may treat the entire balance as marital property unless you can prove that your contribution is greater. This is easier to do if you have kept careful records.
If you inherited property during your marriage, you may assume that your spouse has no right to that property. However, the reality is more complicated.