In Ross v. Ross (NYLJ 6-23-21), 14 years before the divorce action the wife’s father provided money for the parties to buy a house.  The house was deeded to both parties when it was purchased.  At trial the wife stated that she had a separate property claim (i.e., “her” money) of $300,000 as the funds were an advance on her inheritance from her father.  The court found that she did not have a separate interest as her father had forgiven the debt to both parties.  The court held that since the house was a gift to both parties, that the wife did not have any superior rights.

Lesson to be learned here?  If the father wanted to preserve his daughter’s separate property rights, that should have been stated in writing, and the parties should have also signed a postnuptial agreement regarding same.  Often, when a couple is happy parents do not want to make an in-law feel badly, and will make a gift a to both parties, although they truly only mean to benefit their child.  As much as it may hurt an in-law, it is better to state that upfront.  Years after a transfer has occurred, witnesses, such as a parent, may no longer be available to testify, and certainly the intent of the parent to his in law may be different in bad times than good, and a court would question that parent’s veracity.

If you mean to say something, put it in writing and don’t just hope for the best!

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