Long Island Divorce Attorneys Manage Issues Related to Inheritance

Aggressive litigators fight to preserve your property rights

Settling claims to inherited property can be complex and have serious consequences for your financial future. For more than 25 years, Bryan L. Salamone & Associates, P.C. has aggressively litigated a wide range of issues related to inherited assets. We represent heirs with a claim to sole ownership, as well as spouses who have grounds for an equitable claim. Whatever side of the issue you’re on, you can rely on our knowledge and our determination to deliver the best result possible in your divorce proceedings.

Keeping inherited property separate

New York’s equitable distribution laws treat inherited property as they do assets owned before marriage. Inheritances designated for one spouse, rather than the couple jointly, are separate property and immune to asset division in the court. However, the court requires proof of the asset’s separate status. If you are the heir, there are important steps you should take to produce and preserve such evidence:

  • Sign prenuptial or postnuptial agreements — Formally declaring your intention to keep an inheritance separate during your marriage strengthens your case for it being treated as separate when you divorce.
  • Preserve documentation — The language of the original bequest should indicate whether the inheritance was left to one spouse or the couple jointly. But that’s just the beginning of the records you’ll need. For example, an heir may inherit a house in need of restoration. To maintain sole ownership of that house, and avoid the type of commingling that could give a spouse ownership rights, the heir should use separate funds and carefully document all transactions.
  • Maintain separate accounts — An heir who inherits cash, stocks or life insurance benefits should keep those assets in personal accounts, rather than joint accounts.
  • Establish a trust — A trust is an entity that holds assets. When an heir takes inherited assets and endows a trust, there is an extra layer of protection against commingling.
  • Don’t put your spouse’s name on the title — An heir who comes into real estate holdings should refrain from putting the spouse’s name on the deeds. It’s much more prudent to draft a will, leaving the property to the spouse.

Many of our clients (or their spouses) have not been so meticulous in creating a paper trail for their inherited property. That is all the more reason they need our experience and our willingness to fight for their rights. Lacking documentation, we can often put together a persuasive case based on the way the couple treated the property.

Issues related to the growth of inherited assets

Generally speaking, when an inherited asset is separate property, the income the heir derives from that asset, as well as any increase in its value, is also separate property. Exceptions are created when the heir uses the income to support the dependent spouse, or when the growth of an asset results from the other spouse’s efforts or contributions. For example, you inherit an apartment building from which you derive revenue. That revenue is your separate property, as long as you hold it in a separate account and do not commingle it with marital assets. However, if your spouse renovates the building, putting time, talent and capital into improving the property, and that enables you to increase the rent, a court would probably find that your spouse is entitled to rental income and an equitable interest in the building. Whether one spouse has an equitable interest in another’s inherited property is a matter for the court to interpret. At Salamone & Associates, we provide aggressive representation for spouses on either side of the issue, and we fight to assert your right to a fair outcome.

Get answers to your inherited property questions at Long Island’s largest divorce law firm

Whether you’re trying to keep your inherited property secure or to establish an equitable claim to a spouse’s inheritance, our experienced attorneys can help. Bryan L. Salamone & Associates, P.C. provides aggressive litigation services through every phase of your divorce. To schedule a free initial consultation, call us immediately at 1.631.479.3839 or contact us online.