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Spokane Estate & Probate Lawyers / Blog / Estate Planning / Can You Completely Disinherit a Spouse in Washington?

Can You Completely Disinherit a Spouse in Washington?


Making a will allows you to decide who will receive your property after you die. There are, however, some caveats. If you are married, your one-half share of any community property–i.e., assets acquired by you and your spouse during your marriage–automatically passes to your spouse upon death. Your spouse may also have certain inheritance rights to your separate property if you signed a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement prior to executing your will.

Washington law further provides for an “award to surviving spouse”–also known as a family support award–that may be claimed regardless of what the deceased spouse’s will provides. This award can be made from either the deceased spouse’s share of community property or their separate property. The family support award also takes priority over all other claims made against the deceased spouse’s probate estate.

Beneficiary Takes Nothing Due to Estranged Husband’s Family Support Award

A recent unpublished decision from the Washington Court of Appeals, In the Matter of Estate of Mnatsakanova, demonstrates how the family support award works in practice. This case involved a husband and wife who were married for 28 years before the wife died in 2021. Several months before her death, the wife signed a new will disinheriting her husband, from whom she was estranged. The will left all of her property to a friend. The wife also instructed her attorney to file for divorce, but that was not done before she died.

After the wife’s death, the husband sold the couple’s Washington home. The friend–the beneficiary under the will–then filed the wife’s will for probate. He tried to stop the sale of the home, but it had already been completed.

Notwithstanding the will, the husband filed for a family support award. The court commissioner granted an award of $838,300. This would exhaust the wife’s entire estate, meaning the beneficiary would take nothing. Not surprisingly, the beneficiary appealed. He argued the commissioner should have reduced the amount of the family support award to account for (1) the property the husband received from the wife’s probate estate, (2) the remaining mortgage on the house, and (3) the sale of the home for below-market value.

The Court of Appeals rejected these arguments and upheld the commissioner’s award. On the first point, the Court pointed out the husband inherited nothing from the wife’s probate estate because she disinherited him. On the second point, there was no mortgage on the property, but even if there was, Washington law did not permit a decrease in a family support award on that basis. And on the third point, the evidence showed the husband did not sell the home for below-market value. Indeed, even if the house had sold for the amount suggested by the beneficiary, it still would not have left anything for him after paying the full amount of the family support award.

Contact Moulton Law Offices Today

If you are involved in a difficult family situation, it may be time to reconsider your own estate plan and take appropriate steps to assert your rights under the law. Our experienced Spokane estate planning attorneys can advise you in this process. Contact Moulton Law Offices, P.S., today to schedule a free consultation. We serve clients throughout the Spokane Valley, Kennewick, and Yakima area.



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