Be careful with family gifts if the recipient is contemplating a split
A father in Virginia gave his married daughter a check for $15,000, and told her it was a gift for “y’all.” The daughter and her husband used the money to fix up their home, which they jointly owned.
Later, the couple divorced. The husband argued that the money was a joint gift, and thus he was entitled to a share of it in the divorce. The wife argued that it was a gift to her and that she didn’t have to share it.
So the case turned on the legal definition of “y’all.” Did that refer to just the daughter, or the couple?
A judge ruled that the gift was for the couple, and thus it could be split at divorce. This was partly because the father said he intended it for “y’all,” but also because the money was used to improve joint property – so regardless of how the gift was intended, it was converted into a joint asset.
The idea of a judge analyzing the legal significance of “y’all” might be amusing, but the larger point is very serious: If a person is contemplating divorce and also might be receiving a gift or an inheritance, it’s very important to speak with a family law attorney about how to make sure the assets remain separate.
There might not be a foolproof way to keep a gift or inheritance from becoming divisible at divorce, but you can improve your odds dramatically if you’re careful about how the gift is transferred, and if you make sure the assets aren’t put into a joint account or used for a joint purchase.