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 play Pygmalion.
    • 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 profits yet.
  • 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 pay Kingman.
  • 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.