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How an inheritance can become marital property

When people in New York are married, they begin to share a life "for better and for worse." This sharing occurs whether the couple realizes it or not. Almost all assets earned during the marriage become marital property, regardless of who earns the money or purchases a particular asset or even whose name is on the title. This is true for debts as well, any debt incurred by one person is incurred by the couple whether they realize it or not. However, there are some exceptions to this rule.

Couples can retain some separate property during the marriage. Generally, if the person owned it prior to the marriage, it will remain separate property or at least a portion of the asset will remain separate. Also, if only one spouse receives a gift or an inheritance, even if it is during the marriage, that inheritance will be considered separate property.

However, these types of funds can be comingled with marital funds. Sometimes, a couple may use an inheritance to put an addition on their house or invest it in a joint investment account which has marital funds. When this occurs the inheritance or separate property may lose its designation as a separate asset and may become a marital asset, or at least the part that grows in value may become marital even though normally the gains would remain separate.

People in New York receive inheritances every day. Some of these inheritances can be for a very large sum of money as well. Whether these become marital property is just one of the many complicated issues that can arise during asset division in a high asset divorce. Besides inheritances, people need to value and divide properties, investment accounts, retirement accounts and other assets, and many assets are not easily valued. Experienced attorneys understand the resources that one may need as they go through a divorce and may be able to guide one through it.

Source:, "Divorce & Property Rights" accessed on Dec. 19, 2017

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