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Wyatt v. Fulrath

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Spanish nationals sent personal property to New York where the law allows for all property to go to a surviving spouse while Spanish law allows only half to go to the survivor.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    So long as a marital property contract is validly made it may determine the law to be applied to the property acquired during the marriage if the property is within the jurisdiction of the law to be applied.

    Facts.

    A husband and wife were nationals and residents of Spain.  Due to the political instability leading up to the Spanish Civil War, they sent cash and securities to New York, though neither of them ever visited New York.  The husband died in 1957.  The wife later transferred some property held in a joint account in London to New York.  The wife died in 1959.  The husband and wife had agreed that the New York law of survivorship would apply to these funds under which the total amount of property went to the survivor.  Spanish law provided that only half of the property would go to the survivor.  Wyatt (Plaintiff), executor for the husband, sued Fulrath (Defendant), executor for the wife, for half of the funds over which the wife took total control upon the husband’s death.

    Issue.

    So long as a marital property contract is validly made, may it determine the law to be applied to the property acquired during the marriage if the property is within the jurisdiction of the law to be applied?

    Held.

    (Bergan, J.)  Yes.  As a matter of public policy, a state has the right to say whether it will apply its own law to foreigners who choose to place property there for custody and protection.  The property was sent to New York and the parties manifested the intent that New York law rather than Spanish law should be applied to the disposition of the property.  This is a factor of intent that outweighs the facts that the parties were nationals of Spain and had never been to New York, and did not execute their agreement in New York.  However, a different rule applies to the money that was sent to London and then to New York by the wife.  The law of England must determine whether this money passed to the wife when the husband died, or whether England would apply Spanish law to these facts.  Affirmed as modified.

    Dissent.

    (Desmond, C.J.)  Traditionally, the law where spouses are domiciled has controlled devolution and property rights.  The parties had no contact with New York other than sending their money there for bailment.  The forms that the parties signed for the bank for their joint accounts were meant to protect the bank, and there is no indication of intent to disregard the law of Spain.

    Discussion.

     

    Discussion:  Where the contract indicates a manifested intent for another law to be applied, and if the property is in that other jurisdiction, public policy considerations may lead to the enforcement of the laws of that jurisdiction.


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