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As a beneficiary, will my trust distributions be included in a divorce settlement?

When planning or during the early stages of the divorce process, it's critical to account for all assets either held jointly or in an individual spouse's name. Assets that may be included in a comprehensive list include pension, investment and retirement accounts as well as real estate, personal property, art collections and other types of family heirlooms.

Additionally, it's important to take into consideration that Massachusetts is among those states that do not necessarily distinguish between what is considered marital vs. separate property. Therefore, while assets that are gifted, inherited or held in a trust are almost always retained by an individual spouse in most states; in Massachusetts these types of assets are considered fair game in divorce proceedings.

In cases where one spouse is the beneficiary of a trust that was established by his or her grandparents or parents, the value of these assets may be considerable and can significantly impact the amount of a divorce settlement. For an individual who is the beneficiary of a trust and who wishes to protect a trust's assets from an ex-spouse, it's critical to seek the advice and assistance of an accomplished attorney. Likewise, for an individual who wants to ensure that a soon-to-be ex-spouse's trust assets are included in a divorce settlement, an attorney who handles high-asset divorces can assist.

Additionally, in cases where a couple plans to marry and one fiancé is the beneficiary of a trust, he or she can take steps to protect a trust's assets by establishing a prenuptial agreement. Likewise, in cases where an individual becomes a trust beneficiary after being wed, an attorney can assist in drafting a post-nuptial agreement to protect those assets.

Source: Forbes, "What Divorcing Women Need To Know About Protecting Third-Party Trusts," Jeff Landers, Oct. 8, 2015

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