Normally, retirement plans are generally considered safe from creditors. A recent ruling by the Bankruptcy Panel for the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has called that safety into question. An individual was awarded ½ of his ex-wife’s 401(k) plan and her entire individual retirement account in their divorce settlement. He later filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy and claimed those assets were exempt from creditors because they were in retirement plans. The Bankruptcy Panel disagreed on the basis that the retirement plans were not originally his; thus, they were subject to creditor claims.

Defined contribution 401(k) plans are sheltered from creditors in bankruptcy filings for individuals who own the plan. IRAs are also usually exempt from bankruptcy as well (subject to a cap under federal law that is approximately $1.2 million). However, once the assets are separated from the original owner, you should expect that the asset protection will go away. In the Supreme Court ruling of Clark v. Rameker, the Court held that inherited IRAs are not considered retirement funds for bankruptcy protection.

Although the 8th Circuit ruling applies only in that district, other courts may follow suit. For protection, IRA assets received in a divorce settlement should not be intermingled with the individual’s own IRA. Co-mingling funds could possibly jeopardize the creditor protection of the entire IRA.

Please note that this discussion does not constitute legal or tax advice; it is informational only. Your individual circumstances should be discussed with your legal and/or tax counsel.  Paragon Financial Advisors is a fee only registered investment advisory company located in College Station, TX.  We offer financial planning and investment management services to our clients.

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