Although many may not know Frances Bean Cobain, her late father Kurt Cobain emerged as a household name after his band, Nirvana, became the poster children for the grunge movement in the 1990s. Following his tragic death in 1994, the bulk of his estate, which is rumored to be in excess of $400 million, was left to his only daughter, Frances Bean, who was only 20 months old at the time. Now 23 years old, Frances Bean has just filed for divorce from her husband of less than two years, citing irreconcilable differences. In her initial petition, she clarifies that she intends to preserve her inheritance from her father’s estate and believes that her spouse should not be entitled to any of it. Perhaps in an effort to ensure that her husband does not make a play at this asset, Cobain’s divorce petition hints that she is willing to pay him spousal support despite the brevity of the union.
In Georgia, the law is relatively clear that inheritance that one spouse receives from a parent or third party either prior to or during the marriage is characterized as “separate property” and is not considered marital property subject to equitable division in a divorce case. Likewise, property brought into the marriage by one spouse that was generated by or acquired by that spouse prior to marriage is “premarital property” and is also not subject to equitable division in a divorce.
Things become less clear, however, when one party either receives an inheritance, or owns an asset from prior to the marriage, and then either comingles those separate or premarital funds in an account with other marital funds, or invests the separate or premarital funds in an asset that is jointly titled. Georgia used to recognize the “source of funds” rule, which allowed for the return of a separate or premarital portion of an asset so long as the party seeking preservation of that asset could clearly trace the pre-marital or separate funds. However, in 2005, the Georgia Supreme Court made a substantial change to the manner in which Georgia viewed separate or pre-marital funds that had been comingled or jointly titled. In Lerch v. Lerch, 278 Ga. 885 (2005), the Court ruled that when a spouse places a premarital or separate asset into an investment that includes the name of the other spouse, that act manifests an intent to gift that separate or premarital asset to the marriage. So unless there is some definitive evidence of a contrary intent (such as a Last Will & Treatment or a Post-Nuptial Agreement), it is now far more difficult to convince a court to classify any portion of a jointly titled asset as separate or premarital property.
In Cobain’s case, her inheritance falls under both categories because she not only inherited the funds from her father’s estate, making it a separate asset, but she also acquired the funds prior to the marriage, making it pre-marital asset as well. If this case were being litigated in Georgia, the issue of her inheritance would hinge on how she titled that inheritance during her brief marriage. Hopefully for Cobain’s sake, she was careful to do this since it appears she neglected to have a Pre-Nuptial Agreement signed.