Photo: Marc Royce
Q: Last summer my grandmother passed away. She left me about $288,000; of that money, I put $88,000 in a money market account, $100,000 in a three-month CD, and the other $100,000 in a six-month CD. These are all joint accounts with my husband. If we were to divorce, would that money be ours or mine alone?
A: Inherited assets are generally the sole property of the beneficiary. That is, what you inherit is yours and yours alone, with one big caveat: You typically need to keep inherited assets separate from any joint accounts you have with your spouse. The fact that you have commingled the inheritance in joint accounts complicates matters. I suggest you consult an attorney in your state (inheritance and divorce are governed by state rather than federal law) for advice on whether you can retroactively separate the money. And in the future, if there are inheritances you don't want to share, keep them in accounts in your name only.
It is vitally important for all women who have acquired assets before a marriage (their own savings, inheritances, real estate) to get a prenuptial agreement. If you want to combine the assets, great. But if you want to keep things separate—and there is to be no guilt about keeping what's yours—you need to spell it out in a legal document. For a proper prenup, both of you should have separate legal representation and sign everything at least three to six months before you tie the knot. Do not sign a prenup on your way to the wedding ceremony—that makes it easier for one party to challenge its validity later.
Suze Orman's most recent book is her 2009 Action Plan: Keeping Your Money Safe & Sound (Spiegel & Grau).
From the May 2009 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine