Inheritance that has been received or may be received in the future is not automatically included when splitting assets on divorce, but, depending upon your circumstances, it can be taken into account.

Assets are either: 

  • matrimonial assets - money and property you or your ex acquired during your marriage, although in most cases the main family home will be treated as matrimonial come what may
  • non-matrimonial assets - money and property that have come from a source outside the marriage

Matrimonial assets automatically go into the pot of assets to be divided.  

Non-matrimonial assets - such as an inheritance - do not automatically go in.  It may be possible to exclude them completely from the financial arrangement you and your ex agree or from the order a court or arbitrator makes.  However, if the matrimonial assets are not enough to provide for the reasonable needs of both of you (and that's a flexible concept depending on your wealth and standard of living etc. then the court will take the non-matrimonial assets into account too). 

Assets can change from non-matrimonial to matrimonial. If you received an inheritance during your marriage, the court will look to see how that was used before deciding how it should be dealt with.  For example, if it was money held in a joint account that the whole family benefited from, the court may decide it has become joint property and should be available for dividing between you and your ex. 

Inheritance that hasn't yet been received, for example what might be anticipated from wealthy parents, is not usually taken into account. This is mainly because in most situations it can't be said for sure when it might be paid, how much it will be or that a Will providing for it won't be changed. 

It's worth noting that in some countries there is an automatic legal right to inherit and in those cases the court may take the view that it this future benefit is relevant when splitting the assets . Our international expertise means that we have experience of this and can advise you on where you stand. 

If you received an inheritance before you married and you want to protect it in the event of a divorce, consider a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement

Our experience

Dealing with non-matrimonial assets is always more complicated and requires specialist advice.  Whether you need someone to explain the legal and practical realities, to present an argument skillfully in negotiations or are looking to successfully attack or defend non-matrimonial assets in court, we have the experience and knowledge to advise and support you.  

We have recently: 

  • acted in a multi-million pound divorce where the vast majority of the wealth had been inherited by our client before the marriage
  • advised a farming family on divorce, where the family business and property had been inherited and a key concern was to enable the farm to be passed down to future generations
  • drafted a pre-nuptial agreement which protects our client's multi-million pound future inheritance
  • successfully represented a client where there was a long standing family trust worth over £100m set up for their children and grandchildren. Even though our client and his wife were legally excluded from benefitting from it she argued it had been dealt with in a way that meant it should be included as an asset and shared between them. We settled the case in a way that preserved the value of the trust.

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