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What Happens to Inheritance in a Divorce and How Do You Protect It?

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Inheritance represents the passing of material property from one individual to another following the property owner's death. When a marriage ends in divorce, the division of assets often involves a complex interplay between what constitutes marital property and what qualifies as separate property. In this context, a spouse's inheritance may surface in the divorce documents.

Marital property encompasses assets acquired during the marriage. In contrast, separate property, which includes inheritance, is acquired by one spouse before the marriage.

Recognizing the treatment of inheritance in divorce settlements is a pivotal step in the equitable division of assets. It not only aims to protect the property to which each spouse may be rightfully entitled but also contributes to preserving inherited assets that might have personal or sentimental significance. The clarity surrounding the treatment of inheritance aids in upholding fairness in the division of property and avoids potential disputes or discrepancies in the legal process of divorce.

Given the intricate nature of divorce proceedings, especially concerning the delineation between marital and separate property, seeking guidance from a family law lawyer becomes indispensable. Legal counsel safeguards the interests and rights of their clients throughout the divorce process. With a nuanced understanding of inheritance laws and divorce settlements, legal professionals adeptly navigate the complexities, helping their clients receive fair treatment and appropriately protecting their entitlements, including inherited assets.

Claery & Hammond, LLP offers comprehensive legal counsel in Los Angeles for individuals undergoing divorce proceedings. Please call us at (310) 817-6904 or contact us online.

What Constitutes Inheritance in a Divorce?

Understanding what constitutes inheritance is pivotal in navigating divorce proceedings. Inheritance, in this context, refers to material property or assets passed down to an individual upon the death of a relative or benefactor. When a marriage ends in divorce, the treatment of inherited assets becomes crucial in determining their status within the property division.

Various assets are commonly recognized as inheritances, including:

  • Cash
  • Investments
  • Jewelry
  • Vehicles
  • Art pieces
  • Antiques
  • Real estate properties

Assets acquired through inheritance before marriage are typically regarded as separate property, safeguarded from the division of marital assets. Even in cases where a spouse acquires an inheritance during the marriage, it may be considered separate property. Still, complications may arise in determining its status, often leading to discussions on how it should be treated in divorce settlements.

Treatment of Inheritance in Divorce Proceedings

The distinction between community and separate property forms the foundation for how assets are treated in divorce. California Family Code § 760 defines marital property as any real or personal property acquired by a married individual during the marriage. Conversely, California Family Code § 770 delineates separate property as assets owned by an individual before marriage or acquired during the marriage under specific circumstances.

The delineation between community property and separate property carries substantial implications for the fate of inherited assets in divorce settlements. Generally, inheritance remains separate from marital matters, retaining its status as separate property. It is not subject to division during the divorce proceedings.

However, complications arise if the inherited assets have been intermingled or utilized for joint purposes during the marriage. When inherited assets are commingled with community property or used to acquire joint assets, tracing and distinguishing the contributions or utilization of these assets becomes challenging.

Commingling inherited assets with community property or their use to enhance or acquire jointly-owned assets can blur the lines between separate and marital property. When tracing or segregating the contributions or usage of inherited assets becomes arduous, the court may consider a portion of the acquired asset as marital property subject to division in the divorce settlement.

Strategies for Protecting Inherited Assets in a Divorce

In general, inheritance retains its status as separate property, even if acquired during the marriage. Still, individuals can adopt precautionary measures to safeguard inherited assets before and during the marriage.

These measures include the following:

  • Maintaining clear documentation that explicitly identifies the inheritance as belonging solely to one spouse
  • Keeping the inheritance entirely separate from shared marital assets
  • Ensuring that the inherited assets remain exclusively in the name of the spouse who received the inheritance

Legal instruments such as prenuptial agreements are also robust tools for protecting inherited assets in the event of divorce. Prenuptial agreements establish the terms and conditions regarding the treatment of assets, including inheritance, in case of divorce, providing a clear roadmap for asset division.

Safeguarding Your Future

Knowing how inheritance is treated in divorce involves a nuanced understanding of legal distinctions between separate and marital property, proactive strategies, and meticulous documentation to safeguard inherited assets.

Receiving personalized guidance from a lawyer can be beneficial. They can offer tailored advice and assistance in navigating the complexities of inheritance and divorce proceedings.

For those in Los Angeles seeking legal representation, please call Claery & Hammond, LLP at (310) 817-6904 or contact us online.


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