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Interesting and confusing situation posed to me..

When there are multiple households a child lives within, who retains ownership of items provided to a child by one parent if said child passes?

So far: HOBLYN v. JOHNSON Seems to have the most information. Yet it seems to have also oppositional statements as well.

HOBLYN v. JOHNSON 2002 WY 152 55 P.3d 1219 Case Number: 01-169 Decided: 10/09/2002

  1. "As a general rule any property acquired by the child in any way except by its own labor or services belongs to the child, and not to the parent." [46 C. C. 1314]. . . . It furthermore goes without saying that a parent cannot deprive a child of its property except pursuant to law (31 C. J. 1011), and the fact that in this instance the father had the property in question assessed as his property could not affect the title of the children. In Banks v. Conant, 14 Allen (Mass.) 497, it was said: "In consideration of the duty which the law imposes on a father to furnish adequate support to his child during infancy, the services of the child during that period are due to the father, and, if they are rendered to a third person, the right of the father to recover the value thereof is clear and indisputable. But this is the extent of the father's right. He has no title to the property of the child, nor is the capacity or right of the latter to take property or receive money by grant, gift or otherwise, except as a compensation for services, in any degree qualified or limited during minority. Whatever therefore an infant acquires which does not come to him as a compensation for services rendered, belongs absolutely to him, and his father cannot interpose any claim to it, either as against the child, or as against third persons who claim title or possession from or under the infant."

This reads to me that the one parent(or even a third party) can claim ownership of items without recourse for the other parent... (Confused?)

Yet the next paragraph indicates that-

"Despite the general rule, parents do retain property rights in certain items they provide their children for the purpose of support, maintenance, or education such as clothing and books. 1 Kramer, Legal Rights of Children, supra at § 8.12; 67A C.J.S. Parent and Child, supra at § 119. It is uncontroverted the daughter's paternal grandfather gave the horse to her as a gift, the horse was titled in her name, and it was not necessary for her support or maintenance. As a matter of law, the horse belonged to the daughter, and the parents had no implied authority over it simply because of their proprietary interest in the premises on which it was located."

Which is it? I'm leaning toward the latter... and...

If a parent has items that were provide for "support, maintenance, or education" in their custody when the child passed the death created an "involuntary bailment" of these items, correct?

However, when said parent refused requests the others request to return property the bailment became "voluntary" does it not?

Does that then constitute an act of conversion? If so what are the recourses?

I cannot find any instances where this kind of situation has gone to court, and with all candor find that hard to believe...

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  • First of all, there isn't an answer that is necessarily uniform in all jurisdictions. Secondly, ownership of untitled tangible personal property is often ill defined in practice.
    – ohwilleke
    May 10 at 23:25
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The sections of HOBLYN v. JOHNSON quoted in the question do not seem self-contradictory to me. they say that:

  1. Wages earend by a child are subject to a claim by the father (now presumably by the parents jointly or the custodial parent, and I wonder if this is still good law).

  2. things provided by the parents "for the purpose of support, maintenance, or education" (such as clothes and books) remain the property of the parents, or perhaps of the custodial parent.

  3. All other property which the child receives as a gift or bequest or in some other way is the property of the child.

Assuming this case is good law in the relevant jurisdiction (which I am not sure of) then at least all property in class 3 will be in the estate of the child. If the child has a valid will (which will depend on the child having proper testamentary capacity, and having executed a will) then it will control. Otherwise, the local intestacy statute will control. In either case the properly appointed executor or administrator (E) should pass property in accord with the will or statute, as directed by the probate court. Any property is held in an informal trust, subject to the order of the executor or administrator. If any person refuses to turn over property as directed by E, E can secure a court order from the probate court. It is quite unusual for such measures to be needed.

The three classes listed above will probably not be the same in all jurisdictions. The intestacy rules will almost surely differ from one jurisdiction to another. Exactly what type of bailment a parent left in possession has over property formerly owned or used by the child after the child's death and before a decision or order by the executor will also vary. The general rule that the decision of the executor or administrator controls, unless overruled by the court, should be fairly general.

It may well be that similar cases have gone to courts for decision, but far fewer have been appealed to the level where decisions will be published and placed online where a google search will find them. That is one area where the tools available to a professional lawyer give a significant advantage.

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