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Prior to their marriage, a California resident may receive an inheritance from a family member or friend. A person may also receive an inheritance during their marriage that is distributed solely to them and not to their spouse. When a person receives an inheritance and later decides to divorce, it can be confusing for them to understand whether the inherited assets should be subjected to the property distribution of the divorce.

The timing of the distribution of the inheritance as well as how the inherited assets were used during the marriage can impact whether they should be distributed by the divorce court. When a person receives an inheritance before their marriage, that inheritance is generally considered the separate property of the recipient. An inheritance received by an individual during marriage can also be classified as separate property if it is not intended to be shared by both parties to the marriage.

Inheritance that is separate property may become marital property through its use. For example, regardless of when a party receives the inheritance, if they use it for marital purposes or mingle it with marital assets, then the inheritance may be converted into marital property. Uses that may convert separate inheritance assets into marital assets include but are not limited to paying off marital debts, purchasing shared property, or investing in joint accounts.

A family law attorney can provide an interested reader with more information on complex divorces as well as additional information on the property distribution process in California. This blog post is provided to introduce readers to the basics of inheritances as martial property and should not be relied on as legal advice. Inheritances can be classified as marital or separate property and the facts of an individual’s case will determine how it is viewed by a court.