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Protecting assets in a divorce

Inheritances and gifts are not considered marital property under Massachusetts law. Money or assets received by inheritance or gift by one spouse are considered separate property in Massachusetts and are typically protected from a divorcing spouse. This protection is not automatic, however, and individuals must act cautiously in order to protect assets that are rightfully theirs.

Courts in Massachusetts divide the couple's property into two categories: separate property and marital property. Separate property includes property each spouse owned before the marriage as well as property received during the marriage in the form of inheritances and gifts. Marital property, on the other hand, generally includes all other property obtained during the marriage by either spouse.

Once the court divides the property into these categories, it awards the separate property to the individual that owns it and divides the marital property by equitable division, meaning in a way that is fair and just. Fair and just does not necessarily mean an equal split. A court will consider many factors as it divides the couple's marital property.

When an inheritance, gift or other separate property has been comingled with marital assets, it may lose its separate character and be considered divisible by the court. In order to protect one's inheritance or gifts, it is important to keep that property separate from the marital property. Money received by inheritance or gift should be kept in a separate account in the name of the spouse that owns the funds. Depositing the funds in a joint account or using them to pay bills on behalf of the couple will cause the funds to lose their separate character.

Property division can lead to disagreements as divorcing spouses debate whether particular assets are marital or separate. When faced with these situations it is important to have experienced legal counsel.

Source: , Forbes, "Divorcing Women: Here's How to Protect Your Inheritances And Gifts," Jeff Landers, Aug. 19, 2014.

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