Tennessee Divorce Law Concerning Inheritance
By Heather Frances J.D.
Tennessee law requires an equitable division of property between two parties in a divorce. However, Tennessee law does not consider all property to be divisible in divorce, including an inheritance, depending on how it was used during the marriage.
Tennessee law does not allow separate property to be divided in a divorce. Separate property includes any property you acquired by inheritance, regardless of whether you receive that inheritance before or during your marriage. Other types of property Tennessee considers to be separate are property acquired by gift, property owned prior to marriage and certain legal settlements.
In contrast to separate property, marital property is divisible in a Tennessee divorce. Martial property includes all property -- except for separate property -- that either spouse acquires during the marriage. Even property you or your spouse obtain during the divorce process is considered marital property. While Tennessee requires your marital property be divided equitably, this does not necessarily mean each of you will receive an equal share. To make a determination as to what is considered equitable, the court must consider the entire situation, including the length of the marriage, ages of the spouses, contributions of each spouse to the marriage, and tax consequences of the division; however, the court is not allowed to consider whether either party is at fault in the divorce. The value of marital property is determined as of the date of divorce not the date when the property was purchased.
Income from Separate Property
Even if your inheritance started out as your separate property, income from your inheritance may be considered marital property if you and your spouse both contributed to it. For example, if you used marital assets to improve or maintain a house that you inherited during your marriage, the court would likely consider the increased value of that house as marital property even while it considers the house itself to be your separate property.
If you mix — or commingle — your inheritance with your marital property so much so that the court has difficulty tracing the inheritance, the court may determine that it has lost its special status as separate property and has become marital property. For example, if you received money as an inheritance then deposited it in your family checking account and used it to pay marital expenses, the court may determine your inheritance is marital property subject to division in your divorce. Conversely, if you received a monetary inheritance that you kept in a separate bank account or invested separately from your marital assets, the court would be able to trace it and likely consider it to be separate property.
Heather Frances has been writing professionally since 2005. Her work has been published in law reviews, local newspapers and online. Frances holds a Bachelor of Arts in social studies education from the University of Wyoming and a Juris Doctor from Baylor University Law School.