Is My Wife Lying About Her $100K Inheritance?

Dear Penny,

When my mother-in-law passed away, my wife received $100,000, which she deposited in a credit union under her name. She refused to put the money into a bank joint account.

My wife claims that the will stipulated that she do that in case of divorce. We have been having marital issues lately. I have not seen a copy of the will. Please advise.


Dear T.,

Wills become part of the public record once they’re filed in probate court. You, along with any other member of the public, could get a copy of your mother-in-law’s will by contacting the clerk of the court in the county where her estate was probated.

That said, it probably doesn’t matter much for your purposes what your mother-in-law’s will states. As long as your mother-in-law left the money solely to your wife and not to both of you, that money belongs to your wife. She’s allowed to keep it in a separate account, even if the will didn’t stipulate that she do so.

Most assets acquired during a marriage are considered marital property, which means they belong to both spouses. If a couple divorces, the rules for splitting marital property depend on the state. Forty-one states use equitable distribution rules, where a court will attempt to divvy up that property “equitably,” ie, fairly, but not always equally. The other nine states are community property states, where marital property is typically split 50/50.

But inheritances are treated as separate property, regardless of whether you live in an equitable distribution or community property state. They belong solely to the spouse who received the inheritance. That’s why it probably doesn’t matter if your mother-in-law’s will instructed your wife to keep the money in a separate account. If she was the sole beneficiary of that $100,000, she can do what she wants with that money. You wouldn’t get part of that money in a divorce.

I get that this isn’t the answer you want to hear. But try…

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