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Divorce and Inheritance

Sterling Heights Attorney Manages Divorce and Inheritance Issues

Michigan divorce lawyer protects your right to bequests during asset division

One of the issues that can arise when dividing marital assets during a divorce is the disposition of an inheritance. In general, an inheritance left to either spouse, even if received during the marriage, is considered that spouse’s separate property. But sometimes, a couple may have treated the bequest as joint property. Later, in the divorce proceedings, one spouse may claim the inheritance as separate property. Depending on the facts of the case, the property could be classified either way. At Dawson Family Law, PLLC, I draw on more than 40 years of divorce litigation experience to resolve complex issues of property rights. As your advocate, I martial all the facts and legal precedent necessary to make a compelling case for your property rights.

What makes an inheritance marital property rather than separate property?

Under the Michigan laws governing asset division during divorce, property received by either spouse during a marriage is generally deemed part of the marital estate, which makes it subject to equitable distribution. Assets and debts accumulated prior to the marriage, as well as inheritances and gifts received during the marriage, are generally deemed separate property and not subject to division. However, there are exceptions to these general rules.

A divorce court has discretion to decide whether an inheritance should be treated as separate or marital property. Some of the factors the court considers are:

  • To whom the property was bequeathed — If the bequest mentions only one spouse, it might seem that the testator’s intention was to give it only to the one spouse.
  • The nature of the inheritance — Is the gift itself something the giver would expect the couple to share, or is it primarily a personal item? Does it only have monetary value, or does it hold sentimental value to the inheriting spouse?
  • How the inheriting spouse treated the property — An inheritance held apart from other assets is more likely to be considered separate property. If the couple treated the property as something they owned jointly, the court might rule it was commingled with marital property.
  • Whether the other spouse contributed to the maintenance or improvement of the property — If the inherited property was real estate or a business and the other spouse had an active role in managing the property, such as by investing money or labor for its improvement, a court could find that spouse has earned an equity interest.
  • Whether the couple designated the property as retirement savings — If a spouse held an inheritance separately, such as to use it to secure a loan to finance the couple’s retirement, the court could find that the other spouse had a reasonable expectation of sharing in the property.

The court can also consider what are known as Sparks factors, such as the duration of the marriage. For example, if the couple had been married only a short time, an inheritance given to one spouse might be considered separate property. But if the couple had been married for a lengthy period, a court could see the inheritance as one made to the couple, absent some language in the bequest that excluded the other spouse.

Courts decide inheritance issues based on the totality of the circumstances. Only trust your case to an experienced divorce litigator who can make the best case for your property rights.

Contact a Sterling Heights family lawyer to discuss inheritance issues in Michigan divorce

Dawson Family Law, PLLC protects the property rights of divorce clients throughout the greater Detroit area. For a free initial consultation to discuss the process and your options, please call 833-671-4445 or contact me online. My office is conveniently located one-half mile south of M-59 (Hall Road) in Sterling Heights.

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Office Location
  • Sterling Heights Office
    43805 Van Dyke Avenue
    Sterling Heights, Michigan 48314
    Phone: 586-731-7400
    Fax: 586-731-6370
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