Is an Inheritance Divided in a California Divorce?

It is not uncommon for people to contemplate divorce for months, if not years before it finally happens. In the interim, a spouse may be anticipating an inheritance. Perhaps their loved one is very elderly or ill, or the decedent’s estate is tied up in probate. Regardless, a spouse awaiting an inheritance but planning a divorce will often wonder if their soon-to-be-ex will be entitled to any of their inheritance.

“I am anticipating an inheritance in the near future. I’m afraid that if I don’t divorce before I receive the inheritance, my spouse will be entitled to half of the inheritance under California’s community property laws.” In this article, we explain inheritances and how they’re treated in a California divorce.

Is Your Inheritance at Risk?

If you receive an inheritance while you’re still legally married, you can keep it separate so it is not divided in the divorce. In order to ensure that your spouse has no legal claim to the inheritance: 1) it must be in your name alone, 2) you must keep the assets or funds separate, for example, in a separate bank account with only your name on it, and 3) you don’t want to convert the funds into marital assets by placing them in a joint bank account or using them to pay for marital property, such as your mortgage or a joint auto loan.

“What if I inherit a house or an automobile, can my spouse be entitled to all or part of it?” If you inherit a home or an automobile or anything else and it is bequeathed to you alone, it is considered separate property, even if you receive it during the marriage.

However, such property is only untouchable if you keep the property separate. If you comingle it with marital assets, it can become marital or community property and in effect, be subject to division in the event of a divorce.

Next: What is Dissipation of Assets in a California Divorce?

If you need further questions answered about California divorce, contact Burch, Coulston & Shepard, LLP for a case evaluation.