In practically every marriage,spouses have, buy or acquire all sorts of property, either before or after the marriage, and usually both. When divorce is on the horizon, it's time to take stock of all of your property and assets.
Emotions run high and it's hard to think clearly about financial matters during a divorce. Take time to document all of your personal and marital assets - and keep the list current! When the dreaded event arrives, you will be prepared to protect what is rightfully yours.
While no two divorces are alike, it's almost guaranteed that in any divorce, there's going to be disagreements, maybe even downright fighting, over who gets what in the property settlement.Claims of "that's mine!" or "your mother gave that to me at Christmas!"are common.
Rest assured, however, a judge will make the unpopular final decision on who gets what, often without much evidence to rely on. It's in your best interest to document and keep track of your assets, both personal and marital.
A Word about Separate and Marital Property
Each state's laws control what assets are considered to be separate or non-marital property and joint or marital property. Generally, everything acquired during the marriage is considered to be marital property.
Separate property is generally considered to be any asset or property that belonged to a spouse before the marriage. Inheritances and gifts received by a spouse during the marriage are usually separate property, too.
Obviously, there are many exceptions to these general rules. And, for long-term marriages, it's usually much more difficult to distinguish between non-marital and marital property. Often, it's best to talk to an attorney about how the laws in your state impact both spouses' property and assets.
Which Assets to Document
Here's a list of common property and assets you should document. The list should include both your separate property and marital property.
- Real estate
- Vehicles, including motorcycles and boats
- Household furniture and appliances
- Books, DVDs, CDs, cassettes and videotapes
- Collections, including pieces of art and hobby or sports equipment
- Bank accounts,including checking and savings accounts, certificates of deposit, safety deposit boxes
- Life insurance policies and annuities
- Stocks, mutual fund accounts, investment bonds or other financial investments
- Trusts, including a trust in which you are a beneficiary
- Pension and retirement benefits, including profit sharing plans
- Businesses, including any interest in ownership of a business
Information You Need to Track
Your records should include detailed information about each asset.The information may vary depending on the type of asset, but the main idea to record as much information as possible. Here's a list of items you need to collect:
- A description of the asset or property and its location
- The date the asset was obtained
- Its purchase price or value at the time you acquired it and any appraisals
- State whether it was an inheritance or gift,by whom and to whom it was given
- Make, model, year and title or vehicle identification number (VIN) of any vehicles
- Legal description, address and title of real estate, and the amount of equity
- Account numbers for all bank accounts
- Plan administrators and addresses for all pension and retirement plans
- Insurance or annuity policy numbers, cash values and insurance company addresses
- Location and contents of safety deposit boxes
It's also a good idea to collect copies of receipts, statements, appraisals, transaction records and other financial documents related to each asset. Keep it all in a central document file in a safe place.
Ultimately, it's up to you to make sure your attorney has all the information needed for your case. It's easier to cope and the process is smoother when you have thorough records. That way, when emotions subside and the dust settles, you're happy with the judge's final decision on the property division.
Questions for Your Attorney
- I put a good amount of my separate money into our home. Will that part of the home and improvements be considered mine?
- I expect to receive a large inheritance before my divorce is final. Will that affect any of the property issues in my case?
- We directed more money into my husband's 401(k) because his plan was better. How are retirement funds treated in divorce?