Inherited Assets

There is a general conception that inherited assets have a special status, that they are "separate" and not subject to invasion absent an "insufficient" estate or "contribution, or improvement" by the non-inheriting spouse. See the discussion in this index under Reeves v. Reeves. I think this is incorrect. First, there is nothing in the Michigan scheme that refers to "separate" property or that creates the dual classification system of assets as seen in Reeves. Second, even if there is a dual classification system, there is nothing in the statutes that suggests this extension to inherited properties, except (arguendo) to the extent that such inheritance took place prior to the marriage. See Denman v. Denman, 195 Mich App 109 (1992); Bywater v. Bywater, 128 Mich App 396 (1983); Schaefer, The Uncertain State of Michigan Equitable Distribution Law Post-Reeves, 79 Michigan bar journal 168 (2/2000).

In the recent, unpublished case of Wilson v. Wilson, No 219876 (June 1, 2001) a litigant argued that "Michigan courts have consistently and overwhelmingly stated that where one spouse receives a gift or inheritance during the marriage and has made such a gift joint property, the courts will consider the property as part of the marital estate." The Wilson court disagreed with this contention, holding that "The decision to include (the) inheritance in the valuation of the marital assets is discretionary and is dependent upon the particular circumstances of a given case. Denman v. Denman," Hmmm. Is this retrenching? Or is this a mere re-statement of the discretion of a lower court to invade?