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Divided about dividing an inheritance? What you need to know

In a perfect world, you would receive an inheritance from a beloved family member, such as your favorite aunt. And even if you were going through divorce, you wouldn't have to worry about losing a chunk of this money to a relentless future ex-spouse.

However, in your world -- the real world -- your future ex may be demanding that a percentage of your inheritance belongs to him or her, too. Understanding the law is paramount when it comes to dividing an inheritance during a divorce proceeding in California.

Property division involving inheritances

In general, the court does not necessarily split an inheritance between two spouses during a divorce proceeding. This is because the court deems an inheritance as separate property, not community property -- or marital property -- in the Golden State. So, in your case, the inheritance that your aunt gave you belongs solely to you.

Sharing an inheritance

After you received assets to your aunt's estate based on her will, perhaps you decided to deposit this money into your and your spouse's joint account at your bank for safe keeping. This seems like a logical move, but it's a big mistake if you intended to keep the inheritance money to yourself. That's because, from a legal standpoint, you have commingled your inheritance with marital funds. This causes your inheritance to lose its protection, or immunity.

In the same way, if you decided to use your inheritance money to remodel your and your spouse's house before you decided to get divorced, your money might also lose the immunity it otherwise would have had. In other words, your inheritance funds are no longer separate property and therefore, the court will divide them during your divorce proceeding.

Inheritance acquired prior to your marriage

If you received the inheritance money before your marriage, the above rules apply. So, depositing it into your joint account translates to commingling. Otherwise, your inheritance is separate property, in which case you get to keep all of the funds for yourself.

When it comes to dividing an inheritance during divorce, perhaps you put your inheritance in a joint account but honestly never planned to share your inherited wealth with your spouse. In this situation, you do have the right to try to demonstrate this in an effort to keep your inheritance money long term.

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Law Office of Edward S. Matisoff
3625 E. Thousand Oaks Boulevard
Suite 113
Westlake Village, CA 91362

Phone: 805-666-0980
Fax: 805-379-6722
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