Law School Case Brief
Spreckels v. Spreckels - 172 Cal. 775, 158 P. 537 (1916)
The husband has the management and control of the community property, with the like absolute power of disposition, other than testamentary, as he has of his separate estate; provided, however, that he cannot make a gift of such community property, or convey the same without a valuable consideration, unless the wife, in writing, consent thereto.
Claus Spreckels acquired properties during his marriage with Anna C. Spreckels, forming part of the community property. In the eight years between 1896 and 1905, Claus made gifts to two of his sons, defendants John D. Spreckels and Adolph B. Spreckels, of large amounts of this community property. The gifts aggregated in value about $ 25 million. At the time of his death, Claus held other property with the approximate value of $ 10 million. Anna did not, in her husband's lifetime, consent to the making of any of these gifts, either in writing or otherwise. Claus died in Dec. 1908. Anna died in Feb. 1910. Plaintiffs Claus A. Spreckels and Rudolph Spreckels, as executors of Anna's will and as executors of Claus' will, and joined by plaintiff Emma C. Ferris, filed a lawsuit in California state court seeking to compel an accounting by defendants with respect to the gifts made to them by Claus in his lifetime. Plaintiff sought restitution of the gifts, insofar as it exceeded one-half of the community property of Claus and Anna, and if restitution was not possible, then for judgment for the value of the gifts. Plaintiffs alleged that Claus made the gifts with the intent and purpose of depriving Anna of her right to one-half of the community property upon his death. The superior court entered judgments for defendants. Plaintiffs appealed, arguing that the gifts were void, as they were made without Anna's consent.
Did the lack of consent from Anna render Claus' disposition of community property void?
The Supreme Court of California affirmed the trial court's judgment. The court observed that the controlling law in the case was § 172 of the Civil Code, which provided that the husband had the management and control of the community property with the like power of disposition. The proviso added in 1891 to § 172—to the effect that the husband could not make a gift of community property, or convey the same without a valuable consideration, unless the wife, in writing, consented to the gift—did not render a gift of community property by the husband without the consent of the wife void as to him, but only voidable, at the wife's option. Thus, such gifts were capable of ratification and confirmation by her. The court found that Anna expressly ratified and confirmed the gifts made by Claus by excluding defendants from her will, for the very reason that they received the gifts from Claus during his lifetime.
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