Community property: does changing title change ownership? (2 of 2)

November 28, 2013, by

property.jpgThis is a continuation of last week's blog. Son Arthur prevailed in the Court of Appeals, with his argument that the real estate his mom had bought before her marriage to Robert was separate property. Thus in her estate it would be divided equally between Arthur and Robert. Robert then took the case further, to the Washington Supreme Court. How did it rule?

Robert relied on an earlier reported case finding joint title to be indicative of community property. This caused the Supreme Court to examine its presumptions. It is pretty well settled in the law that property acquired before the marriage is separate property and remains so until clearly made community. The earlier case Robert was relying upon, confused that presumption.

In our case of husband vs. son, the Court went back to the basic presumption of separateness, and rejected the case Robert offered to the extent it was in conflict. If Robert had been able to offer evidence of Jeannette's intent to transform the property to community, he might have prevailed. But the mere fact of title in both names wasn't sufficient to overcome the presumption that property acquired before the marriage is separate.

So this case went through three Courts: Superior, Appeals, and Supreme. How much money was spent on it? The property must have been quite valuable (or the parties unusually determined). Arthur got the answer he wanted, but at great cost. This could all have been avoided if his mother had more clearly documented her intentions.