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Pre-Divorce 101: Gathering Documents to Uncover Assets

By: Peggy L. Tracy, CFP ®, CDFA. CFE

Divorce documentation is a process that, the sooner done, the better. Many years before the actual signing of the papers, one spouse may already morphed from a trusted person to a trust violator. Keeping track of assets, what you own, and liabilities, what you owe is essential in keeping ahead of the other side. By understanding what papers to gather you can begin to search out assets before the door is slammed and the information is no longer accessible to you.

It is in your best interest to gather information on your personal and marital assets and debts to ensure that your property rights and legal interests are protected. You will want to more carefully scrutinize incoming/outgoing mail, unusual package deliveries, and changes in the lifestyle of your spouse. Often, just being more aware will reap huge benefits to being keyed in to actions that seem suspicious or activity that is out of the ordinary.

The following is a list of various assets that you may own, both personal and marital. For determining the value of the marital estate the current, or Fair Market Value, will be used. The more recent your information, the better data it will be.

  • Savings/Checking Accounts/Cash Equivalents
  • Brokerage Accounts
  • Life Insurance Policies/Annuities
  • Real Estate
  • Retirement Assets
  • Collectibles
  • Trusts
  • Businesses
  • Autos/Personal Assets
  • Household Assets

Your documentation starts with setting up a paper trail for each asset. Folders, either paper or electronic, should be utilized to keep track of the paperwork of each asset. The longer you keep this file going, the better paper trail you’ll have if a forensic investigation is needed during the divorce.

For each asset you will want to gather the following:

  • Date/Amount of Original Investment/Purchase
  • Current Appraisals/Valuations of Large Assets
  • Description of Item, including pictures, and location
  • Any Additional Improvements to Asset
  • Additional Contributions/Investments in Asset
  • If it was received by inheritance or gift
  • Account numbers/legal description for all accounts
  • Location and contents of safe deposit box(es)
  • Pension/Retirement/Social Security Benefits
  • Additional documents that should have their own file folder would be the following:
  • Last three years Tax Returns
  • Credit Card Documentation
  • Computer Evidence
  • Loan Documents
  • All Insurance Documents
  • Health
  • Life
  • Disability
  • Long Term Care
  • Property/Casualty
  • Estate Planning Documents
  • Powers of Attorney
  • Will
  • Living Will
  • Trusts

It is your responsibility to give your attorney the most thorough discovery information to protect you through the divorce process. Property settlement is one of two major money areas to be agreed to. The other item is one we would find it hard to live without – income.