An inheritance is coming. Should you get a prenup?

When many people hear the term “prenuptial agreement,” they think of celebrities and tycoons like Beyonce and Jay Z, Kim Kardashian and Kanye West and Mark Zuckerberg. After all, high-wealth individuals have more to lose if they get divorced. Still, there are plenty of reasons for “normal” people to consider entering into a prenuptial agreement (a contract you enter into with your spouse that details exactly what will happen in the event of a divorce) when they get married.

One reason might be an expected inheritance that you want to make sure remains in your family.

As a general principle, an inheritance that one spouse receives during a marriage should be safe. That is because in most states property that you bring into the marriage remains your “separate property” and can’t be divided during a divorce, as opposed to most other types of income and assets acquired during marriage, which would be considered “marital property.”

However, the devil is in the details. For example, if you put an inheritance into a joint bank account and use it for marital expenses, it may lose its protection as separate property. If you use it to improve your house, it could lose that protection as well. Even if you keep your inheritance completely separate from joint property, in some states it still may be applied toward child support, alimony and even your ex’s attorney fees.

However, a well-crafted prenuptial agreement can include language ensuring that a future inheritance cannot be divided or used toward legal fees or support in any circumstance, as long as your state’s laws permit this.

Admittedly, bringing up the idea of a prenuptial agreement can feel awkward to many people. Nobody headed to the altar wants to be thinking of divorce. But nothing in life is certain, and a little bit of foresight today can save you a lot of stress later on. Talk to a family attorney where you live to learn more.

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