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How can I protect an inheritance from division in my divorce?

Married couples often seem from the outside to be a single entity; two people living almost as one. Of course, spouses are still individuals. They can even receive large gifts, like an inheritance, that the gift giver or decedent intended to belong to the receiver alone -- not his or her spouse.

This may not seem like a big deal while the recipient is still married. But it can become a big point of contention if he or she ever gets a divorce. If the gift is valuable, the recipient’s spouse may try to claim that it is part of the marital property, that pile of assets and debts that is subject to equitable division between the spouses under Minnesota’s divorce law.

Depending on the nature of the gift and how long ago you received it, it can be difficult to show that it is separate property that you should get to keep. Here are some unromantic but arguably practical tips from The Wall Street Journal for maintaining separate property during your marriage, in case of a future divorce.

  • Keep it in your name alone. If an inheritance was specifically earmarked to buy real estate, make sure title to the property is in your name alone, and that title is not shared with your spouse.
  • Save documentation. Paperwork that proves the inheritance was meant to benefit you solely can help you make your case, but only if you hang onto it. A gift-tax return is a good example of what to keep.
  • Keep the money separated. Don’t comingle the inheritance funds in a joint bank or investment account. Doing so could imply that you shared it with your husband or wife.

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