Protecting Inherited Assets in a Divorce: What You Need to Know

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Inherited Assets

If you are getting a divorce, protecting inherited assets from division and distribution to your spouse may be a major concern. When you inherit money or property from your family, you may not want your ex to receive any part of it. Fortunately, a lawyer can help you plan even before your marriage to protect these assets. Should you or your spouse file for divorce, a lawyer can also help you safeguard your inheritance.

Will Your Spouse Automatically Receive Part of Your Inheritance?

Typically, your spouse will not automatically get part of your inheritance in a divorce. Inheritances could include: money in a savings account inherited from a relative, property deeded to you before marriage, or a beneficial interest in a trust created by a family member. As long as you received your inheritance before marriage and it was given only to you (not you and your spouse), it will likely be treated as separate property in a divorce.

In North Carolina, separate property does not get divided during divorce. Separate property is any assets or debts that were acquired before marriage. Only marital property (and divisible property from the separation period) gets distributed between the two spouses in an equitable way.

Is an Inheritance Always Separate Property?

There are a few exceptions to the general rule that inheritances received before marriage are separate property. These exceptions include: if you have made agreements to the contrary, if you have improved or increased the inheritance during marriage, or if you have combined the inheritance with marital property. For example, you could sign a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement that affects how the inheritance will be distributed on divorce. Spouses may choose to sign such an agreement if the inheritance has been improved upon or increased due to the efforts of both spouses.

If the inheritance has been improved upon or increased during marriage and there is no prenup addressing it, there is a possibility that the court may divide the inheritance between the spouses. This is because the non-inheriting spouse may have contributed time, labor, or money to help increase the inheritance’s value. For example, if one spouse inherits a house, the other spouse may work to pay the mortgage, do house repairs, or fund a renovation.

Could a Prenup Help Protect My Inheritance?

Yes, a prenuptial agreement can help protect inheritances and other separate property acquired before marriage. A prenuptial agreement is signed by spouses before marriage. It can include provisions about property division and distribution should the couple divorce in the future. People who have a much higher income than their future spouses or who have significant inherited assets often want prenups because they can make clear which property remains separate.

If you want to protect your inheritance using a prenup, contact a family law lawyer today. You will need a local lawyer familiar with state laws on prenuptial agreements. Your lawyer can learn about your needs, prepare the agreement (often in conjunction with your future spouse’s lawyer) and answer questions you may have.

What If It’s Too Late for a Prenup?

When you are already married, you still have options to protect inherited assets. You could sign a postnuptial agreement with your spouse. This type of agreement is similar to a prenup and addresses similar topics. You could opt to sign a postnup after marriage, agreeing to keep the inheritance as separate property. Again, seek legal help to prepare the agreement.

If you are already separating or divorcing, speak to a divorce lawyer about how to protect inherited assets throughout the property distribution process. You may be able to sign a separation agreement with your spouse that discusses property division. Or you may be able to provide evidence to the court that the inheritance was acquired before marriage and remained your separate property throughout. Your lawyer can give you advice regarding your specific situation. Make sure you hire a divorce lawyer before you speak to your spouse or their lawyer about inherited assets.

Let New Direction Family Law Assist You

When you have a significant inheritance to protect in ad divorce, you need professional legal help from a team of knowledgeable and effective professionals. Luckily, the team at New Direction Family Law is available today to answer your questions. We will help you understand your legal rights and work hard toward your best outcome. As North Carolina family law and divorce lawyers, we serve clients in Wake, Johnston, and Durham counties. Contact New Direction Family Law at (919) 646-6561 to schedule a consultation, or visit us at our website.

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