Idaho Lottery Winner Tripped Up by Community Property Rules, May Lose Half

Idaho lottery - lottery community property
Idaho lottery - lottery community property

When Holly Lahti found out last week that she won half of the largest lottery drawing in U.S. history -- $380 million -- her elation may have turned to regret over two factors: She lives in Idaho and had not yet obtained a legal separation or divorce from her spouse.

Idaho -- like Arizona, California, Louisiana, New Mexico, Texas, Washington or Wisconsin -- is a community property state. This means all income and property, such as lottery winnings, acquired during the marriage (other than through inheritance or by gift in most of these states) are viewed as community property; each spouse is treated as owning half of the income and the property.

Lahti's estranged spouse, Josh, likely will be able to collect half of Holly's winnings of $190 million. She may contest this, but without a formal separation, she faces considerable legal difficulties. Living apart, no matter how long, does not create a legal separation. Whether a court viewing a claim by Josh to half her winnings will take into account her claims of domestic abuse at Josh's hands remains to be seen.