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Life insurance and Washington's community property law

One of the most common elements of estate planning is life insurance, but life insurance policies are often misunderstood. There's also an important aspect of Washington law that can make a big difference on how life insurance policies are settled.

Washington is a community property state. This means that both spouses have an equal claim to any income earned or property bought during the marriage. Typically, this would include proceeds from a life insurance policy, if community funds were used to pay the life insurance premiums. This would mean that even if the insured named someone other than the spouse as the beneficiary, the surviving spouse would still typically be able to take 50 percent of the proceeds.

For those who name their spouse as their beneficiary anyway, none of these provisions will present any difficulty. However, for those who name a child or other person as a beneficiary it can be very important. It can also be important to the surviving spouse if the deceased simply forgot to update the beneficiary - an all-too-common oversight among people who have been married more than once.

Life insurance can be a very good way to provide for one's loved ones, but it is only part of an effective estate plan. Some of the best ways to make sure that one's wishes are carried out are wills and trusts. However, it's important to remember that all estate planning documents should be updated regularly to reflect changes in one's life and finances.

A Washington attorney with experience in these matters can help individuals and families craft an estate plan and keep it up to date for years to come. It can really improve one's peace of mind knowing that one's loved ones will be cared for in the future.

Source: Fox Business, "A Spouse's Right to Life Insurance Money," Barbara Marquand, Feb. 12, 2014

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