Do two become as one? Jewelry and community property.

December 5, 2013, by

jewelry.jpgA criminal case, of all things, reminds us of the treatment of jewelry under Washington community property law. Gerardo was convicted of burglarizing the Kraut residence and stealing the husband's firearms and the wife's jewelry. He appealed his sentence because his offender score was calculated in a way that treated Mr. and Mrs. Kraut as two victims. Thus this burglary was deemed two offenses.

Gerardo argued, with some justification if someone who breaks into others' homes may be justified, that what he stole was community property. In his and his attorneys' eyes, the Krauts upon marrying had become one, later to be one victim.

The Washington Court of Appeals, in an unpublished opinion, didn't buy it, not relying however on the idea Mr. Kraut and Mrs. Kraut were separate individuals, each of whom could have been badly hurt or worse. No, the answer was that the wife's jewelry was separate property and thus she was a distinct victim. Even if the money to buy the jewelry had been community property, Mr. K's giving it to Mrs. K made it hers alone. An earlier case supported this concept of the wife's jewelry as separate property.

While this case is a little silly, it does hold lessons for us who aren't facing criminal charges. Washington law allows a Will to refer to a separate list disposing of tangible personal property. If jewelry is not community property, then the spouse who owns it may give it away by list without fear that the other may assert a challenge to the gift. It is probably advisable for the wife to give her jewelry to her kids if she predeceases her spouse, for what good can a surviving husband do with his wife's wedding ring?