QUESTION: I CAN’T BELIEVE I MADE THAT STUPID GIFT, CAN I GET IT BACK?
ANSWER: EVEN GIFTS MADE IN CONTEMPLATION OF MARRIAGE ARE NOT RETRIEVABLE!
We are all familiar with buyer’s remorse and hopes to rescind a contract. But, can we get back gifts we later regret having made?
Almost seventy years ago, this issue was presented to Judge McGivern in Splendore v. Guglielmo the Supreme Court, Special Term, New York County, 205 Misc. 941 (1954).
Why did the donor want the gift back?
As Judge McGivern said:
“In Manhattan’s East Harlem, on the fiesta of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, in the year 1948, Charles Splendore, the plaintiff, first met the defendant, Mary Madonna. She was then a maid of sixteen summers. And she was fair. Charles was smitten. On Christmas day, 1949, the twain plighted their troth.”
Charles Splendore and Mary Madonna planned for a church wedding and “lawfully wedded bliss.” Charles was so smitten that he gave Mary a fur coat, a watch, and a ring.
The account at the Harlem Savings Bank that had been in the sole name of Mary Madonna was made into a joint account. Deposits were made into the joint account until September 7, 1951.
Alas, “lawfully wedding bliss” was not to be for Charles with Mary. Charles sued over the balance of the bank account and to get the gifts returned.
As the court stated:
He is aggrieved because Mary, unlike Penelope, had a change of heart. In fact, on February 21, 1952, she married one Joseph Guglielmo and leaving behind the environs of East 116th Street, she was off for the glories of Corona, which is in Queens.
The court went on to say that: “It would appear that this happy event followed the interception of a certain letter, written by Charles, which the court, for lack of relevancy and for aesthetic reasons, has struck from the record.”
“Money can’t buy me love!”
Charles was the better witness as to the money in the bank account. As the judge stated:
His testimony had a ring of truth to it. As a witness, he was forthright, accurate, and spoke without hesitation. Moreover, his steady employment by one concern amply demonstrated his ability to practice thrift.
The judge was much less impressed with Mary’s testimony:
On the other hand, Mary did not distinguish herself on the stand. By actual stenographic count, she said, “I don’t remember” no less than forty times. Nor were the sporadic habits of her employment history in her favor.
As to the bank account, the court decided that most of the funds, $1,949.88, belonged to Charles plus 87-1/2% of the accumulated interest. The balance was to be paid to Mary.
“This diamond ring doesn’t shine for me anymore!”
The gifts the fur coat, the watch, and the ring, were awarded to Mary by the Judge, even though given to her by Charles when he envisioned she would be his bride. By the law of New York, and other states, the gifts given to someone envisioned as a bride belong to her, “and her heirs and assigns forever.”
As the court noted, “Courts of both high and low degree have passed upon it and have held that gifts made in contemplation of marriage are not retrievable.”
And the Court elaborated:
And if the plaintiff is mystified and rues his youthful conduct which brought the drama of this case about, the court solicitously commends him to the words of Solomon, the son of David, uttered over 2,000 years before he was born: “There be three things which are too wonderful for me, yea, four which I know not: the way of an eagle in the air; the way of a serpent upon a rock; the way of a ship in the midst of the sea; and the way of a man with a maid.” (Proverbs, 30:18, 19.)
If you want to discuss and think about the legal consequences of gifts before you make them, please call me.
Michael R. King • Gammage & Burnham, Attorney’s at Law
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