Perhaps your parents or grandparents were extra generous this Christmas and wrote a sizable check (to you and not your spouse) to buy yourself something frivolous or put away in case you ever need it. As many older folks often tell younger ones, "You can't take it with you."
Now, you're in the midst of divorce. Is your spouse entitled to part of this money in the settlement? That depends on how you handled it.
The same rules apply to gifts from a third party as to inheritances. If the funds are kept in your individual account, they're solely yours -- as long as they're not commingled with marital assets. Commingling can happen when you add marital assets to the individual account or you place your assets in a joint account. Once you do that, it's considered marital property. They're subject to either equitable distribution or community property laws, depending on your state.
Gifts vs. Loans
Another source of conflict in divorces is money given to one or both spouses to help them out financially when a couple breaks up. Conflicts arise over whether it was a gift or a loan. If the couple doesn't use all (or any) of the funds, one spouse may claim that the money was a gift that they should split in the divorce settlement, while the other argues it was a loan that they need to pay back.
Whatever the understanding when they received the money, if there's nothing in writing designating that it's a loan to be repaid, it's difficult to argue in court that it is. Experts say the best way to avoid that conflict is to draw up a promissory note specifically designating the the money is a loan. If it's not a loan, a simple document can be drawn up specifically stating that it's a gift, to whom it's being given, and that no repayment is expected.
Prenups and Postnups
A further safeguard against having your spouse take a part of gifts (money, property or other assets) intended solely for you is to designate that such gifts and inheritances are considered individual property in a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement.
Most couples don't like to consider such things when the marriage is going well. However, things can get nasty in a divorce. If a family member gives you a valuable heirloom, you'd have it insured. Likewise, if you receive a generous monetary gift, you want to insure it by taking these important steps.
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