We are often asked by clients how to protect an inheritance received during the marriage in the event of a divorce?  In Pennsylvania, marital assets typically include any asset received by either spouse during the course of the marriage.  Inheritances are one exception to this general rule.

If a spouse receives an inheritance during the marriage, the inheritance is not automatically marital property.  However, any increase in value of the inheritance between the date of receipt of the inheritance and the date of separation would be marital property. 

There are a few ways that you can protect your inheritance from a divorce.

First, when you receive an inheritance, you should place it in a separate account or asset in your name only.  Make sure that you keep documentation to show where the money came from to open the account or purchase the asset, and keep the first statement for the account or proof of purchase price for the asset to prove that you did not use any marital monies for the asset.  By keeping the money in your name alone, you protect it from being divided in a divorce.  If you put the inheritance into a joint asset such as a house boat, or bank account, you risk the inheritance being treated as a gift from you to the marriage.

Another option is to ask an attorney to draft a postnuptial agreement for you and your spouse to sign. This is similar to a prenuptial agreement, except that it would signed after you are already married.  If done properly, the agreement will make sure that any increase in value of the inheritance is protected as well as the underlying inheritance.

Protecting your inheritance requires proper advance planning.  If you wait until a marriage sours, you may be too late to protect your inheritance from the divorce action.