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Are Inheritance Monies Subject to Equitable Distribution?

I work daily with individuals concerned about division of assets during their divorce. Properly valuing a marital estate is key to fair division of property at the end of a marriage.

New York is an equitable distribution state, meaning without other agreement, a court makes property awards that equitably distribute assets and liabilities of the marital estate.  Equitable does not mean equal, and courts rely on a number of factors when dividing property—including marriage duration and relative household contributions of each party.

The marital estate includes assets and debt acquired during marriage, with exception of property held separately.  According to Domestic Relations Law 236 (B), separate property not subject to equitable distribution includes:

  • Property owned prior to marriage or received by bequest or gift from someone other than a spouse
  • Compensation received for personal injury
  • Property obtained in exchange for, or to increase value of, separate property—unless increased value was due to efforts of the other spouse
  • Assets and property subject to valid prenuptial or postnuptial agreement

Despite protection afforded by law, oftentimes an inheritance or other separate property is commingled with the marital estate through jointly held accounts, acquisitions, and other expenditures.  Unless you hold an inheritance separately throughout a marriage—or investigators can clearly track its proceeds—it will be included within the estate for equitable division.

If you have an inheritance, hold it close—and hold it separately—or your legacy might be lost to divorce.

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