Ownership of Wedding Presents as Between Spouses

In determining ownership of wedding gifts, expressed intention of the donor and intention of the wedded couple are considered.  In the absence of proof, sometimes gifts are presumed to be for joined ownership and sometimes presumed to be for one of the parties.  These presumptions are made based on the use of gifts.  If it is found that a particular gift is of use by both the parties, that gift is presumed to be for joint ownership.  However, if the gift is found useful only to the wife or the husband, the gift will be presumed to be for either of them.

In a 1982 case before a U.S.bankruptcy court[i], the court had to decide on the ownership of a gift received by a couple.  The wife claimed ownership of the gift.  She testified that she received the gift at her parents’ home, from a friend of her family, prior to her marriage.  The court considered the expressed intention of the donor and the intention of the wedded couple.  The court found that the wife’s testimony showed the intention of the donor to give the gift to the wife rather than to the couple jointly.  Hence, the court ruled ownership in favor of the wife.

In a case before a New York supreme court in 1965[ii], the court had to decide the ownership of some household gifts received by a wedded couple during their marriage.  The court observed that household property obtained for general use of husband and wife is deemed to be the property of both of them in the absence of proof to the contrary.  In this case, the court held that the wedding gifts are joint property of husband and wife and that the wife is entitled to one half thereof or the value of her one-half share.

Thus, the main factors considered by courts in deciding the ownership of wedding gifts are:

  • Donor’s intention;
  • Use of the gift; and
  • Intention of the couple.

[i] In re Maginnis, 24 B.R. 146, 148 (Bankr. E.D. Va. 1982)

[ii] Brenner v. Legum, 46 Misc. 2d 552 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 1965)

Inside Ownership of Wedding Presents as Between Spouses