Speelman v. Pascal
10 N.Y.2d 313, 178 N.E.2d 723 (1961)
Pascal was a producer. He had
obtained the rights to make a musical/movie based on George Bernard Shaw's
The play was eventually
turned into the movie "My Fair Lady"
Pascal wrote a letter to
Kingman, his 'secretary' (wink wink) giving her 5% of his share of the
profit from whatever musical/movie he made with his rights.
Pascal died. At the time he
died, no production was planned, so the rights hadn't generated any
Since Pascal died intestate, his heirs took his estate via intestate
succession rules. Kingman stepped up
and declared that she had some of Pascal's rights.
Kingman argued that the
letter was a valid, complete, present gift by way of assignment of a
share in future royalties.
The heirs argued that since
the rights hadn't generated any revenue, they were currently worthless
and therefore did not constitute a valid gift because no one knew how
much money they would one day be worth.
In order to make a valid
gift, you have to define exactly what is being given. A gift of 'a
bunch of money' would not be valid under the common law.
The Trial Court found that the
gift was valid. The heirs appealed.
The Trial Court ordered
Pascal's estate to pay out the 5% if/when any money was generated.
The Appellate Court affirmed.
The Court found that in
order to be a valid gift, the money needed to be ascertainable. In this case, it was quite clear what money
Kingman was due to receive.
Even though the amount of
money was unknown and might have turned out to be zero, it was still
very easy for the estate to calculate exactly how much they needed to
The basic rule here is the
money must be identifiable. The money doesn't need to exist, it just
needs to be definitely ascertained.
This case is distinguishable
from the similar cases of Brainard v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue and Unthank v. Rippstein because in those cases, the money proffered
was not ascertainable. In order to constitute a valid
trust or gift, the money needs to be precisely defined. Those other
cases did not properly define the money and so the gifts/trusts were
found to be invalid.