Money Watch

Shaky marriage, vulnerable account

Syndicated columnistMay 4, 2013 

Q: My parents are in their late 80s. Several years ago they started to give me money as part of my inheritance for me to benefit from now instead of when they die. The money, which is nearly $120,000, is in an account in only my name.

My marriage has been on shaky ground for the past year and I'm not sure where we are headed. If we get a divorce, I don't want my husband to get his hands on any of this money.

Should I hide it in a safety deposit box or put it in my brother's name? I have heard horror stories of inheritance money being taken by estranged spouses. Please help me. — Reader, via email

A: With the money from your parents in an account with your name, if your marriage goes down the sewer, your spouse would have a claim for half of the money. Whether your husband "should" get any of the money is another matter. The inheritance is a gift to you.

If you wish to put the money in your brother's name, that may be an answer. But, of course, if he gets into trouble, that money can be tapped by whoever is trying to collect from him.

Q: My sister was given a life estate in a home. Can you tell me what my sister can do? There are two children sharing in the estate. — Reader, via email

A: I think you have to understand that there is a difference between a life estate and the estate the two children share. A life estate is very simple. It says that your sister can live in the house as long as she is alive, assuming she meets a couple of standards, such as paying the taxes and paying insurance. The fact that two children share in the estate is not relevant.

Until such time as she either passes away or decides to give up the life estate, your sister can stay there without regard to what the others who have an interest in the estate wish her to do. They have no way to shorten the life estate.

Send questions to Smart Money, P.O. Box 2095, Elfers, Fla., 34680. Email to bruce@brucewilliams.com

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