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How can I protect my inheritance during a Virginia divorce?

The end of a marital relationship may not be the best time to take action to preserve assets. In fact, many Newport News residents make property protection a consideration before marriage. However, if you're already married and contemplating or working through the divorce process, hindsight isn't all that helpful - you want to know where you stand right now.

Property division during a divorce can be fraught with conflict. You may not be clear about the differences between separate and marital property, according to Virginia equitable distribution laws.

Unless you have an agreement that states otherwise, for the most part, the property and debts you brought into marriage are yours when you leave it. Any assets or debt you and a spouse accumulate during the marriage are shared and divisible. As always, there are exceptions.

An inheritance acquired during marriage normally belongs exclusively to the spouse who receives it, provided the bequest wasn't meant for both spouses. That asset remains separate property, unless it is mixed with or transmuted into marital property.

For example, during marriage, you received $100,000 from your grandmother's estate after her death. That money is all yours, whether or not you remain married, as long as you keep the funds entirely separate from marital property. The moment you "commingle" some or all of that money by dropping it into a joint account or using it in some way to affect a marital asset, the separate property status may be lost.

In some cases, the intention of the original property owner can be a factor in whether the asset remains separate. Virginia property laws contain nuances that are far too varied to include in this blog.

For your own protection, the way to keep separate property from being divided during divorce is to define property boundaries clearly before the marriage ends. A divorce attorney can answer your specific questions.

Source: FindLaw, "Inheritance and Divorce" Oct. 01, 2014

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