Throughout the world, the engagement ring is known as a symbol of the love shared between two people who intend to marry. Engagement rings are expensive and often one of the most valuable assets a person will owns.
However, marriages in today’s world don’t always last, and a big issue faced by many estranged couples is who gets to keep the ring if the engagement ends. Who gets to keep the ring is a complicated answer that varies by state. To understand who keeps the ring when a death occurs, it is important to first understand the basic laws that decide who keeps the ring when the engagement is terminated.
In Florida, there are a few factors courts use to determine the answer. The general rule is the ring becomes the personal property of the person who receives the ring once the marriage occurs.
The emerging legal approach regarding engagement rings, used by the majority of states, including Florida, is that an engagement ring is a conditional gift. In Florida courts will rule an engagement ring to be a gift made with the implied condition that a marriage happens. In the Supreme Court case Randall v. Randall, a former wife was allowed to keep her ring after the divorce, “as part of her agreement she fulfilled… when she married the former husband.”
This rule is fairly standard throughout the United States. A person who receives an engagement ring, and marries the ring giver, will get to keep the ring if a divorce occurs later. The issue of who keeps the ring becomes more complex if the marriage never occurs.
The rule in Florida is the person who gives the engagement ring may recover the ring if the person who received the ring terminated the relationship, or if both parties end the relationship mutually. This means the person who gives the ring is allowed to recover it, unless he or she was the one responsible for ending the engagement. The court in Gill v. Shively, held Charles was allowed to recover an engagement ring after Dianne told him she would not marry him because she was not ready for marriage.
So what happens when the person who receives the engagement ring dies before the marriage? In Florida there is no direct case law on the matter. However, other states with probate laws similar to Florida have addressed the issue.
In Pennsylvania an engagement ring is also seen as a conditional promise. Just like in Florida, the ring is returned to the giver if the other party breaks off the marriage. The Superior Court of Pennsylvania in Ruehling v. Hornnung, held this rule to have an implied condition that if the marriage does not take place because of death, the ring shall be returned to the person who gave it.
This holding has no precedent in Florida, however it is likely a court in Florida would rule the same way. The courts here favor giving the ring back to the person who gives the engagement ring, unless he or she is responsible for ending the relationship. Here, the relationship would end due to an act occurring other than the ring giver ending the relationship. Therefore, a court would be likely to return the ring to the person who gave it.
If the marriage does occur and the ring wearer dies, the ring would then stay within the deceased’s estate.