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Keeping your inheritance when you divorce

Dividing up your marital assets during a divorce is never fun, but it can get downright ugly if you suddenly find out that you can't keep something that was clearly intended to be yours by a deceased relative.

We're talking about inheritances. Unfortunately, by the time most people think about how to protect their inheritance in the event of a divorce, it's often too late.

If you want to make certain that an inheritance you receive remains yours and yours alone in the event of a divorce, there are two keys to doing it:

  • Documentation
  • Separation

Documentation helps establish the fact that the inheritance was meant for you alone and not jointly gifted to you and your spouse. For example, it may be fairly easy to convince a court that your great aunt left her diamond engagement ring to you and not to you and your husband equally. On the other hand, if your grandmother left you a waterfront vacation home, it would help to have a copy of the will where it specifies whether or not the gift is to you or you and your spouse.

Separation is the other big key to keeping your inheritance yours alone. The biggest mistake that people make is throwing their monetary inheritance into an existing joint savings account with their spouse. Usually it's done by someone who has no inkling that they're headed for divorce court -- otherwise they'd likely be more cautious.

Unfortunately, once that inheritance money is mingled with other money, the court assumes that all the money is marital property -- even if the bank account only had a dollar in it prior to your big deposit. In addition, the act of putting someone else's name on the money means that you just conferred half ownership to that person.

Similarly, the best way to protect real estate that you inherit is to keep it in your name only. In addition, make sure that you clearly document who paid for any upkeep, repairs or taxes on the property, so that your spouse doesn't gain a claim by having his or her funds used for the property's maintenance.

For more information on how to protect your inheritance, talk to a family law attorney today.

Source: FindLaw, "Inheritance and Divorce," accessed July 25, 2017

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