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Law Offices of Christopher A. Benson, PLLC

Surviving Spouse Rights in Washington State

A common question we receive every week is: “What are the surviving spouse rights in Washington State?”

Washington is a community property state; however, a lot of people don’t really know what that means. Please watch our video to get answers to your questions:


Do you have to file a probate to handle real estate and bank accounts when a spouse dies?

The short answer is “Yes” unless the following applies:

  1. The Assets of the deceased are in a trust; or
  2. The Assets of the deceased are held as joint tenants with the right of survivorship (property merely held as community property doesn’t count as will be explained later); or
  3. The Assets have a payable on death contractual provision (such as a retirement plan or life insurance proceeds);or
  4. In the case of a husband and wife, the husband and wife have previously executed a formal Community Property Agreement; or
  5. In the case where the assets are less than $100,000 AND the deceased did not own an interest in ANY REAL ESTATE.

Here are a couple of other clues:

  1. If you have tried to take care of the deceased’s bank account (or other financial accounts) and the bank has told you that you need “Letters Testamentary;” then you must file a probate to obtain Letters Testamentary from the Court.
  2. If you have tried to sell or refinance real estate in which the deceased had a title interest and the lender, escrow company or title company has told you that\ you need “Letters Testamentary;” then you must file a probate to obtain Letters Testamentary from the Court.

There is a common misconception about what “Community Property” actually means. What community property means is that while you are alive and if you are married and if you acquire property during the course of the marriage, you each own 50% of the title of title to the property (both real and personal property). IF you want to do something with the property, you both have to agree. For instance, if you want to sell the real estate, both spouses have to agree to sell the community property. If one spouse says “yes” and one spouse says “no,” then the property cannot be sold because both spouses do not agree on what to do with the property that they own together.

Community Property DOES NOT MEAN that when one spouse dies that the other spouse automatically gets the other 50% title from the deceased spouse. The deceased spouse can theoretically leave their 50% share title to whomever they want (*this is not necessarily always absolute, but, you get the picture).

So, for a surviving spouse to acquire the deceased spouse’s 50% of the title, the surviving spouse typically has to file a probate and obtain authority from the Court to transfer title to the rightful heirs as set forth in the terms of a Will or if no Will, then via the Washington State Intestate Statute law. Also, the Will by itself does not automatically transfer title. The Will has to be probated with the Superior Court and a Court Order entered admitting the Will to probate and appointing a personal representative with authority to transfer title of property of the deceased person’s estate.

Meet out firm:


Preparing for your initial consultation with our firm is easy. We answer surviving spouse rights for Washington State questions every week. Please watch our video so that you know what to expect during your meeting with probate lawyer Chris Benson:

For information about the probate process in Washington, please click on this link.

To schedule your free initial consultation with probate lawyer Chris Benson, click this link.

For more information about our firm, please click this link.

Christopher A. Benson, Esq.

(253) 815-6940