Who Gets Inherited Household Items in a Divorce in Pennsylvania?

By Heather Frances J.D.

When you divorce in Pennsylvania, the court will issue a divorce decree dividing property between you and your spouse. While some of your property is not subject to division by the divorce court, most is. The divisibility of property depends on when you acquired it and how. Inherited items typically are not divisible in your divorce.

When you divorce in Pennsylvania, the court will issue a divorce decree dividing property between you and your spouse. While some of your property is not subject to division by the divorce court, most is. The divisibility of property depends on when you acquired it and how. Inherited items typically are not divisible in your divorce.

Equitable Distribution

Pennsylvania is an “equitable distribution” state rather than a “community property” state, which means Pennsylvania courts divide property between spouses in a manner that is fair and equitable, but not necessarily equal. The court looks at several factors to decide how to split the property, including the length of the marriage, age of the spouses, income and employability of each spouse and the contributions each made to the other’s income. However, the court does not consider fault or marital misconduct, meaning it doesn’t matter who or what caused the divorce.

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Separate vs. Marital Property

Not all property is divisible by the court. In Pennsylvania, the court can only divide marital property, which is most property acquired during the marriage, including household furnishings. It does not matter whose name is on the title to the item or who purchased it. Property is considered separate if it is acquired before the marriage or if it is received as a gift or inheritance, and the court usually can’t divide separate property in the divorce.

Mixing Property

If you received household items as an inheritance, even if you received them during your marriage, they are your separate items at the time they are received. In Pennsylvania, if you keep them separate during the marriage, they retain their separate character, and the court cannot divide them in your divorce. However, separate items can lose their separate character if they become mixed with marital property. For example, if you sold an item you inherited and then deposited the money from that sale into a marital bank account, the court could treat that money as marital property.

Proving Separate Property

Items acquired during your marriage are presumed to be marital property until the spouse who wants to claim them as separate property provides proof that an item is not marital property. If you wish to claim inherited household items as separate property, you must provide some evidence for the Pennsylvania court to show that these items were inherited, such as a copy of the will or probate paperwork.

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