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If you received a surprise inheritance tomorrow, would you share it with your spouse? Or would you keep it all for yourself?

This is a topic I've noticed popping up a bit lately in my inbox. Here's an example: A letter writer asked if she was wrong for not splitting her inheritance with her husband. This one's a little tricky because he'll still benefit from her inheritance, but she's not sharing it 50/50.

A lot of people aren't aware that inheritances are treated differently than money you earn while you're married. Almost always, the spouse who inherited property can keep the entire inheritance. If they divorce, the person who inherited the property is usually allowed to keep it all, provided that they don't co-mingle the money with other assets — say, by depositing money in a joint bank account.

It's an interesting dilemma. I've never been married and I have no expectation that I'll receive an inheritance, so I have no idea what I would do in this situation. Given the number of marriages that end in divorce, I can't fault someone for wanting to protect their money. But I can also see how the other spouse would be a bit perturbed in this situation.

What does everyone think? Should you keep inheritance money for yourself? Or should you split it with your spouse?

Robin Hartill aka Dear Penny is a certified financial planner and a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.

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My husband and I were just talking about this!

He received an inheritance and I fully expected him to keep it himself, knowing it would likely go towards a house. (I mean, I expected that he would put most of it in his CD from the sale of his last house which he/we are saving to purchase a new home.)
In his mind, however, this inheritance is a joint gift and he wanted to discuss how to divide it up. I look at it as a gift for him, and it is not mine at all.

We are both savers so I guess it doesn't really matter what savings account it is in, but it was an interesting discussion. I was surprised that he considered it a joint gift.
(We ended up putting some in our joint vacation account and the rest in his.)

I hope we have to deal with this unexpected money 'issue' again!

I don't think it should be expected to split inheritance with a spouse. But using it to tackle some shared financial issues would be nice – like paying for your kid's college, or funding long-overdue upgrades to a house you co-own.

Things I'd use inheritance on:

  • Downpayment on a new house
  • The kid's education
  • Me and my spouse's mutual retirement
  • The kid's inheritance

Basically spend it in a way that uses at least part of the inheritance so that the entire family benefits. That is kind of what being a family is all about.

I agree with redcatcec, but it depends on how couples handle their finances. My husband and I married young...very young. I was 18, he was 24. We pooled our finances and that's how we always handled our money. It was ours and we made decisions together.

Couples today don't marry so young and have already established retirement and savings on their own and are less willing to just pool it all together in case things don't work out. I understand that.

We were lucky things worked out and have been married 51 years. Any monetary gains are shared.

My situation is different.  I’ve been married for almost 25 years but myself and my husband are separated and divorcing.  I left and filed for divorce when he began to be toxic, hateful, and abusive to me due to his substance abuse problems.  It wasn’t always a bad relationship but over the years it became one.  If i was married and in a good relationship I would feel differently about sharing any inheritance with him.  Sad to say if this would happen to me before we are officially divorced my answer would have to be no.  Especially since he hasn’t even paid half of our mutual marital debt which has left me struggling to make sure OUR bills are paid so I don’t have to declare bankruptcy. It’s already affected my credit score since I’m limited in funds to pay any more than the minimum payments on our credit cards.  

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