Marital estates are the sum of marital property.
Though some exceptions exist, generally marital property is defined as any property, real or personal, that is acquired by either spouse during the period of marriage, regardless of whether the title to the property is held individually or whether it is co-owned.
What is marital property versus non-marital property is often hotly contested. Non-marital property can include property obtained during or after the period of the marriage that is a gift, bequest or inheritance that is made by a third party to one but not to the other spouse; property that is acquired either before or after the marriage; or property that is excluded by post-marriage agreements.
The definitions appear simple, but in practice it is rarely that easy. A lawyer must trace a given property from its original acquisition to its present state in order to prove that a certain property is non-marital. Determining whether a given property is marital or non-marital is often a matter of some difficulty when the asset in question is an investment account, for instance, or various funds that have gone in and out of real property acquisition.
Marital estates can be enormously complex, involving closely-held businesses, pension plans, investments, real estate, and all kinds of personal property that often have a sentimental value. Depending on the size and complexity of the estate, valuing a marital estate may involve either neutral experts or experts retained by either side.