Today’s post will be a fairly quick one. The topic comes courtesy of Frank, who asks, “Aliens gift the Power Pack children with superpowers, costumes and a sentient robot. Don’t their parents technically own these gifts?” Perhaps surprisingly, the answer is no.
For well over a century, the common law doctrine has been this:
[A father] 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. Hoblyn v. Johnson, 55 P.3d 1219, 1228 (Wyo. 2002) (quoting Banks v. Conant, 96 Mass. 497 (1867)).
As the Hoblyn court explained, “this opinion still provides an accurate statement of the law.” And it seems to be true in Virginia as well, which is where the group received the gifts. Midkiff v. Midkiff, 201 Va. 829, 831 (1960) (“the common law is in force in Virginia, except where modified by statute” and “at common law an infant was entitled to his own property rights”). Since the costumes and the sentient robot / spaceship were given as gifts, the children do indeed own them.
Now, you may have heard of the Uniform Gifts to Minors Act or the related Uniform Transfers to Minors Act. The former covers deposit accounts, securities, and insurance; the latter covers property more generally. These model laws, which have been adopted in many states, including Virginia, allow for property to be given to minors but held by a custodian until the minor reaches the age of majority (21 in the model version of the Acts, 18 in Virginia’s version). VA Code Ann. § 31-37. The primary purpose of the Acts is to avoid the hassle and expense of setting up trusts, not to allow gifts to be given that otherwise couldn’t be nor to be the only way to give a minor a gift. Furthermore, in order to be a gift under the Acts, the gift has to be given in a particular way that specifically invokes the Act. So if Aelfyre Whitemane wanted to give the costumes and robot to the children but didn’t think they could be trusted with them until they reached adulthood, the UTMA would be one way to accomplish that. Even so, the custodian need not necessarily be the children’s parent but could be basically any competent adult who agreed to take on the job.
So to sum up: there are a lot of potential issues with superpowered minors, but gadget-based minor superheroes (and villains) can legally own their gadgets independently of their parents or guardians.