Generally, marital property is anything that you or your spouse earned or acquired during your marriage.
Depending on your state, marital property may include any of the following types of:
· your primary home, vacation homes, and any other real property
· bank accounts, stocks, and bonds
· partnership interests and business assets
· retirement and employment benefits, including pensions, profit-sharing plans, stock options, etc.
· general household items like clothing, furniture, jewelry, and art
· vehicles, including watercraft, recreational and planes
· life insurance policies, and
· lottery winnings
Separate property belongs only to one spouse. Although there are some differences in state rules, there are some categories of separate property that are pretty much universal. Providing you do not co-mingle these assets or funds, some of these are:
· property that one spouse owned prior to marriage
· gifts or inheritances received by one spouse either before or during the marriage, and
· assets and/or funds the spouses have agreed in writing is separate (usually a legally prenuptial or postnuptial agreement)
You may be asking why is this so important?
While the majority of the states in the US are common law states, a handful are community property states and three are elective community property states (Alaska & Tennessee, and depending on what you read, the third state is Kentucky or South Dakota). Depending on the state in which you reside (or where your last Will was created) can affect how your Will is probated. Subject to the state, you may be required to leave one-half of your estate to your spouse, regardless of what you may desire. Or it can be determined by a court of law that a child who was not named in a Will can in fact inherit if their siblings were named and they were not specifically excluded. Additionally, some states will recognize a grandchild and their possible rights.
In order to protect your wishes to the fullest extent, and have those wishes withstand a contested probate matter, having a professional create an Estate Plan is always the best course of action. After that has been completed, let Vault Keepers safeguard those documents until they are needed.
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