He Said, She Said: How to Protect Your Assets During a Divorce

Do As Much Preparation As Possible

Planning on initiating divorce proceedings? It’s understandable that you want to get it over with, but slowing down and approaching the matter methodically will serve you well down the line.

Create an inventory of all assets. Take photographs or video, make copies of any and all documents — not just financial account statements but also appraisals, purchase receipts, home inspection paperwork, and the like.

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Start a document or spreadsheet of all assets, and begin dividing them up in terms of how hard you’re willing to fight for them. There will be some items that you must have, others that would be nice to have but that you’re willing to negotiate, and others that you don’t care about and can let your former spouse take. Assets may move from one category to another as the division begins to heat up, but it’s good to have a starting point.

Don’t Forget Digital Security

Do not rely on electronic records stored in the cloud for this documentation. Print everything out or take screenshots and send them to yourself. Having multiple copies is a good idea, as well.

You may want to establish a dedicated email account for this and for other divorce-related communications. If so, do not log into it on a shared device.

While you’re at it, make sure your privacy settings are locked down tight. Password-protect everything and change your passwords on every account you can think of. This means bank accounts and investment accounts, of course, but also your social media profiles and Dropbox or other storage platforms.

Choose a password that is radically different from your previous ones, or better yet, use a password generator and storage app like LastPass to create super-strong passwords for all of your accounts.

Bring In the Pros

In some cases, it might be advisable to hire a private investigator or forensic accountant. This is especially true when the soon-to-be-ex owns a small business or has been in charge of the household finances. These professionals can provide independent data, which helps ensure that all assets are on the table and will be considered during the divorce proceedings.

Financial advisors who specialize in asset separation can also be a huge help. They’re aware of regulations, potential assets, tax implications, and other factors that you probably know nothing about, so they can steer you away from financial maelstroms and into safer waters.

Ask your lawyer if they have worked with particular advisors or forensic accountants in the past that they would recommend, advises a Harrisburg divorce attorney.

Take Taxes Into Consideration

Not all assets are created equally; don’t make the mistake of taking everything at face value, no matter how much you’re tempted to simplify the overall picture. For example, the value of a house appraised at $200,000 is not equivalent to the value of distributions on a $200,000 individual retirement account.

Take a longer-term view of assets by factoring in taxes, penalties, and other variables that can come back to bite you.

Lastly, Learn to Compromise and Let Go

Emotions run high during any divorce, and if yours is shaping up to be acrimonious, it can be difficult to stay grounded and rational. Yet compromises are usually in everyone’s best interests. Ask yourself if it’s really that important to get the house, or the boat, or the Stickley chair that was the first major purchase you made together. The answer may be “yes” — and that’s OK. Add that item to your Must-Haves column.

If you’re being scrupulously honest, however, you might realize you’re digging in your heels only out of spite, because you’re angry and want to hurt the other party, or because it’s convenient — for example, packing up an entire house and moving to another residence is a pain, but it might be worthwhile if the family home is now too big or too expensive for you on your own.

Don’t forget that if you enter negotiations with a spirit of cooperation, it may help defuse your former spouse’s aggressive, argumentative attitude. Whatever you can do during this difficult period to stay calm, reduce stress, and make the process smoother, is a win for both of you.

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