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My mother has been dead for a couple of years now and upon her death I received her butterfly ring and her ashes. I had given her ring to a family friend who was like a mother to mine, but unfortunately I may have to cut contact with her. Is there a way for me to get my mothers ring back? I was unaware she had several things from my mom and I had foolishly given it too her, while all I have to remember my mom is three photos and a name tag from her last job.

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    Have you tried a solution outside of the legal system? Either directly approaching the friend, or if that is not practical, then getting a mutual friend to talk to them? It's likely to be cheaper, and as soon as you get the law involved you are likely to destroy any change of a reconciliation. – Neil Tarrant Aug 7 at 9:19
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Sarah, thanks for your question. You have asked this on the Legal forum; and whilst there might be many moral or ethical considerations surrounding your situation - I'll try to deal with the legal principles here - which are distinct from what people consider 'fair' in the common sense of the word - simply discussing the legal basis of what you are asking.

The relevant law here is 'Gifting' under the Law of Property - here

A gift, in the law of property, is the voluntary transfer of property from one person (the donor or grantor) to another (the donee or grantee) without full valuable consideration. In order for a gift to be legally effective, three requirements must be met:

  1. Intention of donor to give the gift to the donee (donative intent)
  2. Delivery of gift to donee.
  3. Acceptance of gift by donee.

Gifts are generally considered by the court to be either 'outright, remunerative or onerous' - so there can be conditions placed on the acceptance/receipt of a gift. However, it doesn't sound like these apply and that you have given this gift, free of conditions to the donee.

There are special legal considerations with respect to engagement rings between would-be spouses where the donee actually typically keeps an engagement ring even if they fail to get married. This is under revocation.

Unfortunately, from a strict legal point of view - a gift, is a gift - which broadly speaking means that if the person is not willing to return the gift, they are under no strict duty to do so.

One can sue for return of the gift if undue influence was exerted over the donor by the donee:

There are two main forms of conduct that are unacceptable:

  • Acts of improper pressure or coercion such as unlawful threats. In the case of Etridge the judge made it clear that the court will intervene to set aside a transaction which is the product of “excessive pressure, emotional blackmail or bullying”.
  • Failure to perform an equitable duty; g. where A trusts B and B takes unfair advantage of A.

see here

It would ultimately be for first, your solicitor and secondarily a court (or similar) to decide whether you had a legal case based on any undue influence you may have been under, based on the situation which you did not know that she had other items of your mother, leading you to gift her the ring. This is very context dependent. This legal process would be under a civil action against the donee. Of interest, the supreme court have limited the scope of 'undue influence'; the technical details can be seen here.

I hope this is helpful.

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  • Is there any formal means of recognizing an "indefinite loan" of an item with the understanding that X would allow Y to possess the item and use while exercising normal reasonable care, unless or until either X wanted it back or Y no longer wished to maintain possession, but with the recognition that Y would not dispose of the item without offering to return it to X, and that if X asked for the item back Y would return it within a reasonable length of time? – supercat Aug 7 at 22:06
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    Yes this could be considered an onerous gift. The reality is something as complex as this arrangement it would need to be documented somewhere, or have substantial witnesses to this effect. Another instrument to formally recognise such an arrangement is literally a contract. Many of the components you mention would need defined such as "reasonable length of time". – DrDee Aug 7 at 23:09
  • basically there's not really a 'divorce' (can change mind) for a gift, but there is an 'annulment' (can say that the gift giving was invalid) ? – BCLC Aug 9 at 4:45
  • @DrDee: Such an arrangement may be "complicated", but it's essentially how many people share things. If someone asks a friend "Do you mind if I take [item]", the normal intended meaning would, depending upon the item, be either "Do you mind if I borrow this item for awhile?" or "Do you mind if I take and consume this item, and later allow you to take and consume something similar?" Not "would you like to gift of this item to me, without consideration?" – supercat Aug 9 at 19:34
  • @supercat When I imply complicated, I mean legally complicated. All of what you have just said is, of course, very standard in life - but litigation/lawyers would argue/contend each and every point there and the intent, meaning behind all of it and the ultimate remifications in law etc - so it can get very contentious and complicated, very quickly! – DrDee Aug 10 at 7:36
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One could imagine a woman giving a ring to a girl going off to college. Then later, the woman asks for it back saying that it was her mother’s ring and obviously it was just given to use temporarily so that the girl would make a good impression with her classmates (maybe the girl didn’t have good jewelry of her own) and not to keep.

But it sounds like you (1) knew that you gave her the ring, and (2) its significance, and that (3) you intended her to actually own it and keep it. And even without you telling us this, her having it for years makes it seem that way.

Tough situation.

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