In Washington, married couples and registered domestic partners can avoid probate by signing a Community Property Agreement (CPA). In the agreement, the couple agrees that when one of them dies, all of that person's property will pass directly to the other.
This kind of agreement works well for many couples, but it's not right for everyone. Use a community property agreement only if you want all of your property to go to your spouse or partner.
A community property agreement states that when the first spouse or partner dies, (1) all property both people own converts to community property and (2) all of the deceased person's property immediately goes to the surviving spouse. Washington state law permits all community property passed through a CPA to be transferred to the surviving spouse without probate, so the agreement keeps all of the deceased person's property out of probate.
To use a Washington state community property agreement, you and your spouse or partner must agree to leave everything to each other, complete the document, and sign it in front of a notary public. When one spouse or partner dies, the survivor will become the owner of the deceased person's property, without probate.
CPAs are not for everyone. They involve some very important limitations. For example, a simple CPA such as the one Nolo sells:
Additionally, you'll need to beware of conflict with other arrangements such as those in your estate planning documents. A CPA overrides your will or living trust. It also overrides survivorship rules under joint tenancy.
Example: Elisa owns a vacation house with her sister Malia in joint tenancy. Under this arrangement, the property automatically passes to Malia if Elisa dies. However, Elisa also signs a CPA with her husband Steve that states that on her death, all the property she owns will become community property and will go to Steve. When she dies, her interest in the vacation house would go to Steve because Washington law is clear that the CPA would override the joint tenancy. This would make Steve a half-owner with Marge.
When you make a Washington state community property agreement, you'll need to understand how it works alongside your estate plan to avoid unintended results.
If you decide that a simple and straightforward CPA will work for you, you can make one yourself using Nolo's Washington Community Property Agreement . This community property agreement is also included with Nolo's Quicken WillMaker.
More complicated CPAs require individualized drafting by an attorney. See a lawyer to help you make CPA if you want it to:
Even if a CPA is right for you, you'll need to reevaluate your plan if your circumstances change, and it won't be the only estate planning tool you'll need.
You can amend or revoke your community property agreement at any time. To modify a CPA, have a lawyer draft a new one that meets your specific needs. To revoke your CPA, both you and your spouse or partner just need to sign a simple revocation.
Revoke your CPA if:
The Nolo Washington CPA includes a revocation.
It is wise to pair a community property agreement with a basic will. A will lets you name an executor, nominate guardians for your minor children, and provide a backup plan in case you and your spouse die simultaneously. In your wills, you and your spouse should each leave all of your property to each other, and then name alternates who will take the property in the unlikely event you both die at the same time. If there are any inconsistencies between your will and your CPA, your CPA will be followed.
It's also a good idea to make a living will, healthcare power of attorney, and durable power of attorney for finances.
A living will lays out your wishes for medical treatment in case you ever cannot speak for yourself. And using a healthcare power of attorney, you can name a person to make healthcare decisions for you if you can't. Learn more about Living Wills and Healthcare Powers of Attorney.
A durable power of attorney for finances lets you name someone who will take care of your finances if you can no longer do it yourself. In this document, you can also give that person (called your attorney-in-fact) the power to change or revoke your CPA. This could be very important if you or your spouse became incapacitated. Otherwise, to revoke or modify a CPA, a court would have to appoint a guardian for the incapacitated person. Learn more about Financial Powers of Attorney.
You can read much more about estate planning in Nolo's Wills, Trusts, and Probate section.