Unlike many states, Massachusetts has not defined assets that would be considered “non-marital” or “separate” property. Therefore, there are several considerations that you need to discuss with your attorney when considering inherited assets:
Contribution and source of asset. The court will consider who inherited the asset, how much of the total estate is comprised or derived of inherited assets, and how much each party contributed to the appreciation of the marital estate throughout the marriage.
Length of the marriage. While there is no formula, the longer the parties have been married, the higher the chance that inherited asset could be fully integrated into the marital estate and be equitably divided between the parties. The rationale is the longer the marriage, the greater the expectation that one of the parties would receive an inheritance and the parties would mutually benefit.
How the assets are treated by the parties. It is important to understand how the inherited asset was “woven into the fabric of the marriage.” Was it placed into a separate account? Did the parties jointly pay any taxes related to this asset? Who was responsible for the maintenance and appreciation of the asset? Was there ever an explicit conversation agreeing to keep this asset separate from the marital estate?
Timing of the inheritance. Timing can be critical should a spouse inherit an asset during the marriage or even after the parties have separated. Until the Court issues a final judgment specifying how the marital estate should be divided, either by agreement or post-trial, any assets titled in either party’s name must be allocated.
It is important to note that being named in a will or having any future interest in an asset is a “mere expectancy” and, thus, cannot be equitably divided between the parties. However, the Court can consider the “opportunity for each for future acquisition of capital assets and income” as a rational for a disparate division. Therefore, it is important to conduct discovery to fully understand your spouse’s future ability to acquire assets. Many times, that can be accomplished through a request for a Vaughan affidavit from the spouse’s parents or other possible benefactors. An expectancy can have a significant impact on the final division of the estate and should not be ignored.
While this process can feel less than straightforward and heavily fact-driven, it is possible to navigate these considerations and be fully aware of the potential impact on your case. For more information, please contact the Family Law attorneys at Fitch Law Partners, LLP.