Kelln v. Kelln

In Kelln v. Kelln, 30 Va.App. 113, 515 S.E.2d 789 (1999), the parties placed marital assets in separate revocable trusts, expressly for estate planning purposes. When they later divorced, the trial court held that the property in the separate trusts had become separate property. The Virginia Court of Appeals reversed. The court recognized that the equitable division of marital property conveyed to separate trusts for estate planning purposes was an issue of first impression. The court noted that property transferred between spouses during marriage is presumed marital, and that proof of donative intent to create separate property was required in order to find the property had become separate property. 515 S.E.2d at 792. The court recognized it had earlier held that marital property could become separate property through a valid, express agreement by the parties. Id. The court also noted that a gift from one spouse to another during marriage becomes marital property absent clear and express language that the donor spouse intended to give the donee a separate asset. Id. at 793. The court determined that the parties' act of placing marital property in separate trusts did not show the express intent required to change the character of the assets from marital to separate. Id. at 795. The court recognized that a gift may be required to equalize the estates for tax planning purposes, but that the higher level of intent required to make marital property separate property was not indicated by the evidence in that case. The court also noted numerous cases holding that the fact that the trusts were revocable indicates a lack of the donative intent required to convey marital assets to the parties' separate estates. Id. at 796.