Divorce and Inheritance

Nov 23, 2022   ·   6 minute read
Divorce and Inheritance

For many young couples it is a real struggle to get on the property ladder. The combination of rising house prices and stagnate salaries has made the ambition of property ownership an uphill battle for the majority of young married couples. However, many of their parents are sitting on wealth tied up in large family homes. At some distant point, there may be a large inheritance.

When you are getting divorced one of the stumbling blocks to reaching an agreed divorce financial settlement can be when either a husband or wife has received an inheritance or is likely to receive a substantial legacy in the future.

Family solicitor, Robin Charrot, looks at the topic of divorce and inheritance and offers advice on how the court sorts out divorce financial settlements involving inheritances.

For expert advice on divorce and family law call our team of specialist divorce lawyers or complete our online enquiry form.

Protecting inheritance from divorce

There are ways to protect an inheritance from divorce if you have not already received an inheritance. Examples include:

  • Signing a prenuptial agreement – a prenuptial agreement only works if you are engaged and have not yet got married
  • Signing a postnuptial agreement – the agreement can ringfence the inheritance or can be comprehensive and set out your agreed divorce financial settlement in the event of a separation. A postnuptial agreement only works if there are safeguards in place to protect both husband and wife, such as financial disclosure and the taking of independent legal advice
  • The creation of a discretionary trust – this is only effective if you have not yet received your inheritance and requires specialist private client and estate planning advice
  • Keeping an inheritance separate – if you have received an inheritance then one way of trying to keep it out of any future divorce financial settlement is to not share the money. This does not always work as it will depend on the extent of your other assets, the length of your marriage, and several other factors. Keeping the inheritance separate means retaining the money in a sole account and not putting it into a joint account or using it to pay off the mortgage on the family home or to invest in the family business. The court may decide to treat a non-shared inheritance as a non-marital asset. This means that the court will not share the inheritance as part of the divorce financial settlement unless it is necessary to do so because otherwise needs cannot be met

Family law solicitors recognise that keeping an inheritance separate may conflict with financial advice or tax advice. For example, financially it may be best to pay off the mortgage on the family home rather than keep your inheritance in an account or in investments in your sole name. Alternatively, from a tax point of view, it may be best to make use of your ISA allowance and the ISA allowance of your husband or wife. The legal and financial and tax advice is all correct but it looks at the issue from different angles. Professional help can then assist you to work out the option that best suits your needs and priorities.

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Inheritance and divorce financial settlement financial disclosure

In divorce financial settlement negotiations and court proceedings, there is often an assumption that inherited money or inheritance and trust prospects do not need to be disclosed to your spouse or to the court. They normally do as you are required to provide full and frank financial disclosure.

If you do not disclose an inheritance this can result in:

  • Your spouse is suspicious about other financial aspects, such as the value of the family business or the extent of your income, so it makes it less likely that you can reach an agreed divorce financial settlement
  • In divorce financial proceedings the court is asked to make inferences about your honesty and about whether you have other assets because you did not initially disclose the existence of an inheritance or a trust
  • If a financial court order is made and it subsequently comes to light that you received an inheritance or were a discretionary beneficiary of a trust your spouse can ask the court to review the order and make a new one based on the argument that the court would not have made the original order if you had disclosed the existence of the inheritance or the trust

Family solicitors recommend that if you have received an inheritance or if you are named in a Will or a trust you discuss your financial disclosure with a specialist divorce financial settlement solicitor before you start financial settlement negotiations, attend family mediation, or complete Form E financial disclosure as part of the divorce financial settlement court process.

Even if the advice is that you must disclose the inheritance you can still argue that the inheritance should not be considered in the divorce financial settlement. For example, because you have not received the legacy yet and the testator may change their Will or because although the inheritance has been received the inherited money did not become marital property because of the existence of a prenuptial agreement or as a result of the money being kept separate.

Many future inheritances can be safely ignored and will be disregarded by the court. For example, if you are getting divorced in your 20s and your parents have named you as a beneficiary of their Wills but they are in their 60s and fit and healthy. Why? Firstly, you may not inherit for another 30 or 40 years, and secondly, by the date of their death, they may have spent your legacy or decided to leave it to a charity. The situation may be different if you and your spouse are in your 60s and you are divorcing after 30 years of marriage and there is an imminent inheritance and not enough equity in the family home to rehouse you both or to meet your retirement needs. The inheritance could mean your spouse gets more of the equity or pension share than would have been the case if you were not due to imminently receive a substantial inheritance or had recently received it.

Divorce and inheritance can be a very emotional topic as invariably people want to protect an inheritance because of their strong belief that the inheritance was family money left to them and that their relative would not want their estate shared with their ex-husband or wife. Divorce financial settlement solicitors and estate planning lawyers can guide you and your family on your options.

For expert advice on divorce and family law call our team of specialist divorce lawyers or complete our online enquiry form.