Pennsylvania Laws on Inherited Money When Divorcing

By Cindy Chung

Lockbox containing money, jewellery and will

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When a husband and wife divorce in Pennsylvania, they often need to divide their property. If spouses cannot reach an agreement, a Pennsylvania court will determine property division by applying equitable distribution laws. Each spouse should know the state's divorce laws and the effect of those laws on specific types of property such as inheritances. Some spouses may need to seek advice regarding property from attorneys who practice domestic relations law in Pennsylvania.

Characterization of Property in Pennsylvania Divorces

As part of the process for property division during divorce, the spouses or a Pennsylvania state court must characterize the couple's property by identifying each asset or debt as marital property or nonmarital property. Marital property generally includes all property gained during marriage unless the spouses have agreed otherwise through a prenuptial agreement or another type of agreement. Pennsylvania marital property laws include exceptions to the general rule regarding marital property. Property acquired by inheritance, including inherited money, falls under one of the exceptions — accordingly, inherited property might be one spouse's nonmarital property and remain protected from property division during divorce.

Increase in Value of Inherited Property

Although Pennsylvania marital property laws generally classify inheritances as nonmarital property, increases in value to nonmarital property might become marital property while the spouses are married. Accordingly, while inherited money might be nonmarital property in the event of divorce, a state court may need to decide whether to treat an increase in value to the inherited money as marital property. If classified as marital property, an increase in value to inherited money may become divisible between both spouses after the end of their marriage.

Equitable Distribution Laws

After a state court has characterized a couple's property as marital property and nonmarital property, the court must decide how to divide the property if the spouses cannot reach an agreement on their own. Pennsylvania divorce laws require an "equitable distribution" of the couple's marital property. The state courts follow a list of factors given by Pennsylvania statute when determining an equitable distribution that reflects a fair, but not necessarily equal, division of property. The list of factors allows a court to consider the value of property set aside to a husband or wife as nonmarital property; accordingly, a court may consider each spouse's inherited money when considering the amount of marital property to award to each party.

Effect of Inherited Property on Alimony

A couple's property division during divorce may affect related issues such as alimony. Pennsylvania alimony laws establish a list of factors used by the state courts to decide whether a husband or wife should receive spousal support after divorce. The factors allow a court to consider each spouse's marital property received during property division as well as each spouse's nonmarital property. The amount of marital property received by the spouse during divorce, along with other financial circumstances, may affect the court's views regarding the appropriateness of alimony.