As an equitable distribution state, New Jersey law dictates that divorce courts distribute property in a way that is equitable but not necessarily equal. What this means is that family law judges may use their discretion to divvy up property in a manner they see fit. However, just as in community property states, divorce judges must take into consideration the status of a property, meaning they must decide whether a property is marital property, separate property or comingled property. The distinction between the types or property is especially important when it comes to distributing inheritances.
According to FindLaw, inherited property is generally not subject to equitable distribution. This is because New Jersey law does not view inheritances as marital property but rather, as separate assets belonging to the person who received them. This is the case regardless of whether the heir received the property prior to the marriage or during it.
That said, New Jersey, like many other states, recognizes that sometimes inherited assets become “comingled.” For instance, comingling may occur if you receive a lump sum of money from a decedent and decide to place the money in a joint bank account with your wife. You then use the money for marital expenses, such as mortgage payments, school tuition and home improvement. Once you “comingle” your assets, those assets lose their separate property status. The same concept holds true even if you received the inheritance prior to tying the knot but eventually decided to use it for marital expenses.
If you wish to safeguard your inheritance regardless of how you plan to use it during your marriage, enter into a prenuptial agreement. A premarital agreement can identify ownership of premarital property and dictate what is to become of it in the event of a divorce.
This article should not be used as legal advice. It is for educational purposes only.