In North Carolina, if a party files a claim for equitable distribution, the court will classify, value, and distribute the marital estate. In general, all assets and debts acquired by the parties, from the date of marriage until the date of separation, is defined as “marital” property and is subject to distribution by the court. However, if the property is acquired by way of inheritance, the inheritance is considered separate property, regardless of whether the inheritance was received before the marriage, during the marriage, or after the marriage. For example, if a husband and wife are married, and the wife receives $10,000.00 cash as an inheritance from her long lost uncle, generally speaking, the inheritance will remain the wife’s separate property. This means that the inheritance is not part of the marital estate, and therefore is not subject to equitable distribution by the court after the parties separate. Husband has no claim to any portion of that money and it is not counted against Wife in the division of the marital estate. 

Like with most rules, there is an exception to the general rule. If the inheritance was granted to both spouses, a judge could determine that the inheritance is marital property subject to division if a claim for equitable distribution has been filed. However, it has to be clearly indicated by the donor that the inheritance is to be given to both spouses.

Another exception to the general rule is if the inheritance was transformed into marital property. For example, if the inheritance was used to purchase jointly-titled real property, a court could determine that the inheritance was a gift to the marriage, and therefore classify the property as marital.

Contact Hatcher Law Group to consult with an experienced family law attorney to understand your rights and options moving forward.