People often worry about the fate of their family heirlooms during their divorce. Although it’s possible to lose a family heirloom to your ex-spouse, it’s not inevitable. Whether or not a family heirloom can be considered marital property is the key question the court will assess during equitable distribution.
How Are Marital Property & Separate Property Different?
Generally speaking, marital property is any asset or debt acquired during the course of one’s marriage. There is an exception when it comes to inheritance, which we’ll discuss below. Separate property, therefore, is any asset or debt acquired before marriage or after the finalization of divorce.
This means the court will likely consider any family heirlooms you had before you got married as part of your separate property. That said, you must be prepared to prove what your separate property is. You can do this by demonstrating your prenuptial ownership of an heirloom with documentation and/or witness testimony, should your spouse dispute your ownership of said property.
Inheriting Assets & Heirlooms During Divorce
The exception to the general rule about acquiring assets during marriage is that any inheritance someone receives during their marriage can be considered a separate asset. Inheritances can range from money to real estate and family heirlooms of any kind.
If someone close to you died and left you something in their will or trust, you can protect it during your divorce. Even here, though, there’s an important consideration: commingling separate property with marital property.
Beware of Commingling Separate Property
Commingling separate property and marital property can transform the former into the latter. For example, if you inherited money from a parent who died and funneling it into a joint checking account with your spouse, the inherited money can become marital property.
So, what about items such as furniture, jewelry, vehicles, and other physical objects you might consider heirlooms? You might not think it’s possible for an object to commingle with marital property and become part of it, but it is. Typically, a court will deem these types of family heirlooms as marital property if a significant amount of marital assets was used for the heirloom’s upkeep or restoration.
If you inherited an old muscle car from your father, for example, the money you spent on restoring it is probably coming from your joint checking or savings account. When that’s the case, the car could be subject to equitable distribution. An exception in this case might be if you used separate assets to fund the restoration – but, this is where things can get tricky, and you’re better off speaking with an attorney for guidance.
What If I Receive an Heirloom from a Relative Who’s Still Alive?
If you are married and receive a family heirloom as a gift from a living relative, you can claim it as your separate property. The fact that a third party was alive or not doesn’t always matter, and even other gifts that aren’t heirlooms can be your separate property if they’re gifted solely to you.
Call Tinny, Meyer & Piccarreto, P.A. for Help
If you’re concerned about protecting family heirlooms and other important property during your divorce, we at Tinny, Meyer & Piccarreto, P.A. can help. With many years of combined experience, we have what it takes to help our clients achieve their goals and desired outcomes.
For more information, call (727) 245-9009 now and request a consultation.