Is My Spouse Entitled to My Inheritance?

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Whether or not an Inheritance is Subject to Division in a Divorce is Complicated

No matter your reason for pursuing a divorce, the process is never easy. From dividing assets to determining custody, there is a lot at stake.

The complex process of property division can turn from simply a stressful task to a nightmare when an inheritance is added to the mix. If you are considering divorce and are expecting or have received an inheritance, it’s crucial that you speak with a knowledgeable attorney to help you protect your property and understand what may be at risk for division.

Massachusetts law typically considers all income earned and all assets acquired during the marriage are considered marital property subject to division during a divorce. As Massachusetts is an equitable distribution state, that does not mean they are subject to equal division. When dealing with an inheritance, however, this may not be the case. Inherited assets may be treated differently than other assets that come into a marriage.

Is My Spouse Entitled to My Inheritance?

Know Your Rights When it Comes to Inheritance and Divorce

No matter your reason for pursuing a divorce, the process is never easy. From dividing assets to determining custody, there is a lot at stake.

The complex process of property division can turn from a stressful task to a nightmare when an inheritance is added to the mix. If you are considering divorce and are expecting or have received an inheritance, it’s crucial that you speak with a knowledgeable attorney to help you protect your property.

Typically, income earned during a marriage is considered marital property. However, when dealing with an inheritance, this may not be the case. Inherited assets may be treated differently than other money that comes into a marriage.

How the inheritance is labeled does not determine who is entitled to its value. When dividing property during a divorce, couples can categorize assets as either marital or separate property.

Property, assets, or debt that is jointly owned by a couple is considered marital property. According to Massachusetts law, most assets acquired throughout marriage will fall under this category and are subject to equitable distribution.

On the other hand, separate property is considered to belong to only one spouse and is not subject to division during a divorce. Inheritances can be regarded as separate property, provided that the property is kept separate and not woven into the fabric of the marriage or relied on by the parties.

This is almost always true when an inheritance is obtained before marriage, and the inheritor will likely maintain ownership. Similarly, if an inheritance is expected in the future, it will not be included in a division of assets due to divorce. It might, however, still factor into an unequal division of assets because the spouse with the expected inheritance may have a brighter economic future due to the expected inheritance.

What is done with an inheritance may come into question when determining its property status. For instance, a home inherited during the marriage may be a ‘transmutation of property’ if both names are applied to the deed.

This is a term used to describe property that has been transformed from a party’s separate property into marital property. In the above example, the inheriting spouse would have difficulty convincing a judge that the house was never intended to be marital property.

If an inheritance is found to be considered marital property, it will be subject to equitable distribution. The court will consider factors such as who managed the inheritance, what was the inheritance used for and whether or not dividing an inheritance will make a divorce agreement more equitable.

Another situation where inheritance can change from separate to marital property is through commingling. This occurs when inheritance money is put into a joint bank account or used for marital expenses such as a mortgage or jointly owned car payments.

Several tactics can be used to show an inheritance should continue to be considered separate property. A well prepared pre- or post-marital agreement can outline and document the intention of inherited assets.

Due to the complexities of classifying an inheritance as marital or separate property, you’ll want a knowledgeable attorney on your side. Contact our firm today to discuss the specifics of your case.

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