I am not familiar with Washington laws but your step mother may have a valid claim for the funds. You should speak with a local attorney about your situation just to be sure. If the funds were kept separate and your father was the only contributor to the account you may have the ability to fight her claim. Whether you really dig in and fight will depend on how much money is involved and if you want to maintain a relationship with your step mother.
I am licensed to practice law in the state of Georgia. This answer is intended only to provide general information in response to your question and is by no means legal advice. No attorney-client relationship has been created by this answer. Any information presented is not warranted to be error free and should not be relied upon as legal advice. You should consult an attorney in order to obtain legal advice for your situation.
Attorney Tomlinson has given you an excellent answer. If the account is significant, then it is worth consulting your own attorney to discuss defending it.
This is one of those cases where it could easily be an all of nothing decision, (well, HALF or nothing, for the wife). It will also cost you something to defend this, and perhaps a significant amount, if the wife is determined. You might all consider trying to arrive at an acceptable compromise, or agreeing to facilitation or mediation, as an alternative to taking this to trial. That will limit your expenses and the time that the money is tied up.
Best of luck to you!
*** LEGAL DISCLAIMER I am licensed to practice law in the State of Michigan and have offices in Wayne and Ingham Counties. My practice is focused in the areas of estate planning and probate administration. I am ethically required to state that the above answer does not create an attorney/client relationship. These responses should be considered general legal education and are intended to provide general information about the question asked. Frequently, the question does not include important facts that, if known, could significantly change the answer. Information provided on this site should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed attorney that practices in your state. The law changes frequently and varies from state to state. If I refer to your state's laws, you should not rely on what I say; I just did a quick Internet search and found something that looked relevant that I hoped you would find helpful. You should verify and confirm any information provided with an attorney licensed in your state.
"she has to prove it is community property". This may not be true since WA is a community property state. If the brokerage account is funded by community property (such as the spouses' wages), both spouses have a financial interest in the account regardless of whose name is on the account, unless the spouses have an agreement as to who is the owner of the account. The person claiming that wages are not community property would be the one with the burden of proving that the wages are separate property.
One spouse cannot give away the property belonging to the other spouse without the other spouse's consent. So, if the account has community property, your father cannot give away his wife's share without her consent.
The brokerage is not going to get involved in determine whose money it is. The brokerage likely will start a court action, deposit the disputed funds into the court's registry, and let you and the stepmother argue with each other in court whose money it is.
You should review the specific facts with your attorney to find out your legal options.
If a brokerage account can be traced back to before the marriage to the second (or later) spouse, and those funds have not been intermingled with community property, then the step mother would not have a community property interest in the brokerage funds. This is not an unusual circumstance, especially where the marriage is relatively short and/or the father had legal advice about how to keep separate property separate.
So, look closely at the nature of those funds to determine whether they are separate or community. I recommend that you hire a Washington lawyer to sort this out.
This information is intended as general information only, and does not establish an attorney-client relationship. Please seek particular advice from an attorney.
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