A Short Guide to Inheritance: How Marriage Plays a Role and Five Steps for Handling It

An inheritance is generally a sum of assets that a person bequests to an heir in the event of his or her death. One thing that complicates an inheritance is marriage. The inheritance belongs only to the spouse who it was left to, no matter when the inheritance was received — before or during the marriage. However, there are a few cases when the inheritance could be subject to division.

An inheritance could be subject to division when a couple decides to get a divorce or if the funds from the inheritance were used to buy marital property during the marriage. Though some states do have laws that protect an heir from accidental disinheritance, signing a prenuptial agreement can protect an inheritance as well. In 2013, 63% of members surveyed by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers reported that they had seen an increase in the number of prenuptial agreements in the three preceding years.

Five Tips for Handling an Inheritance if You’re Married

  • Know that if you spend your inheritance during the time that you’re married, in most cases it will be considered gone.
  • To avoid any property from becoming at risk for loss in a divorce, keep the title in your name only.
  • Don’t use marital money to maintain inherited assets or property
  • Don’t deposit inherited money into a shared bank account. If you do, you risk losing up to 50% of it.
  • For people who are already married, look into a post-nuptial agreement to sort out how inherited property is to be characterized.

If you stand to receive an inheritance, it’s important to understand the way a marriage can affect one and what you can do to protect yourself. It may be worth seeking legal counsel if you’re unsure of anything or need advice.

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