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How a divorce affects inheritance

Divorce is a difficult process that affects all shared property, which is at least anything the spouses acquired together during the marriage. However, in some cases, divorce can affect a person's inheritance from a family member or colleague.

Inheritances are generally not considered marital property - an asset gained during a marriage - so an equal split between spouses is rare. If it shared, however, rules vary by state on how cash or assets may be divided or recovered by an heir or heiress.

If an inheritance is used to increase or improve the quality of marital assets, such as home renovation or supplementing a joint trust fund, it may be considered marital property and subject to division.

If a spouse inherited before marriage took place, the principle is usually similar. An unshared bequest is individual property and may be retained as a whole by the spouse who received it.

If the funds were used to improve marital assets, or money was deposited from an inheritance into a shared account during marriage, they may be subject to 'equitable distribution' - an even split between spouses.

Large inheritances that are received before marriage are prime reasons to create a prenuptial agreement with an attorney during the marriage process. This will set a legal framework for the assets' disposition in the case of a divorce.

In addition, some jurisdictions may allow an inheriting spouse to recover a bequest as a whole from a shared account. This can only be the case if there is proof that the spouse did not intend to share the assets or use them to improve marital property.

An experienced divorce lawyer can assist with filing divorce papers and ensuring that a settlement agreement exists for an inheritance once divorce is finalized.

Source: FindLaw, "Inheritance and Divorce," accessed July 14, 2017

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