Puckett and Senger entered into a prenuptial agreement before marriage.  

     At issue, on appeal, among other items:  Is tangible property, such as firearms, inherited during the marriage considered separate or marital when the parties then divorce with a prenuptial agreement in Virginia?   

Circuit Court Decision Challenged on Appeal

     Court of Appeals noted the issues, among others, as follows:

  • “applying the statutory principles of equitable distribution despite an express waiver of statutory remedies in the parties' premarital agreement, 
  •  requiring written evidence of separate title for property to be separate property under the agreement, designating certain property as marital property over evidence that the property was separate property . . . .”

Virginia Court of Appeals:  Tangible, Inherited Property Should be Classified as Separate Property According to Parties’ Prenuptial Agreement

The Court of Appeals notes, 

  • “The circuit court, however, also found . . . guns inherited from Puckett's father, to be marital property which was split between the couple. Here, we disagree with the circuit court. 
    • Puckett provided testimony that these firearms belonged to his father. 
    • Additionally, supporting testimony by Puckett's half-brother, Paul Baker, further confirmed that item 9, a Benelli Renaissance shotgun, 12 gauge, belonged to his stepfather. Baker further testified that he bought item 10, the JP Sauer and Son three barrel rifle, for his stepfather and that the stepfather owned it prior to his death. 
    • While it is true that there is no written document to establish separate title to Puckett regarding these firearms, the testimony from Puckett, corroborated by his half-brother, established that these two guns were acquired through inheritance, and were, accordingly, 
    • Puckett's "separate property" under the agreement. This evidence of inheritance was unrebutted. Therefore, items 9 and 10 should have been assessed as Puckett's separate property and it was error to assign them as joint property. 
    • Under the agreement, joint property would be appraised and each party would receive 50% credit of its value. 
    • On remand, Puckett should receive the full value of these inherited guns that are his separate property."

Where Tangible, Inherited Property Lacks Titling Documentation, Oral, Corroborated Testimony Provides Evidentiary Basis for Separate Property Distinction

     The Virginia Court of Appeals found in 2023 that Inherited, Tangible Property can be established as separate property, in spite of no title or deed proof, with oral testimony and corroboration by a witness at trial.

     Prenuptial Agreements require documentation and maintenance, as parties inherit property, to avoid commingling assets, and thus, losing their separate property distinction.  To ensure your prenuptial agreement remains valid and enforceable, please consult with one of our Virginia attorneys at Smith Strong, PLC by calling 804.325.1245 or messaging us on this site.

Opinion:  TODD PUCKETT v. TAMARA SENGER, Va. Ct. App., No. 1117-22-3 (Va. Ct. App. Sep. 19, 2023).

H. Van Smith
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