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Fellow Weekly Newsletter - Issue 45 - What a Wedding! - Business Law and Ethics for the Shabbos Table

Publication: Fellow Weekly Newsletter

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7/30/10

Welcome to Fellow Weekly! Encouraging intelligent and entertaining debate at your Shabbos table.

Fellow Weekly raises issues of business law and ethics through lively emails by featuring your real-life scenarios answered by our leading authorities and professionals.

To join this mailing list, please send an email to weekly@projectfellow.org with the word subscribe in the subject line.

CASE 146: What a Wedding!

Adored by his fellow classmates and campus friends, Eli Werner was a humble, self-motivated and good-hearted young man. Eli consistently extended a concerted effort to bring happiness to other people's lives. It was no wonder that the student body was overjoyed when Eli broke the news of his imminent nuptials to Karen Sanders on April the 7th.

Eli's popularity though, far surpassed his financial capacity. Student loans and a range of additional debts awaited his attention. Ben Schwartz, a well off, close confidant of Werner, knew that furnishing a home would pose a challenge for the Werners. Concerned, Ben schemed for a respectable tactic through which to ease their plight.

Schwartz, drove to Macy's, purchased fifteen thousand dollars worth of household items and distributed them amongst Eli and Karen's friends. Reciprocation time for Eli's good heartedness had come and all were eager to comply with Ben's strategy to fill their friend's heart with joy and comfort.

Dressed in their finest, laden with Ben's gifts, the wedding guests lined up in the park to welcome the white limousine.

What a wedding! Smiles from ear to ear and a heart filled with happiness and reassurance, Eli lavished copious expressions of gratitude upon all the wedding guests for their thoughtfulness and generosity.

- Is it permissible for the wedding guests to elicit undeserved expressions of gratitude from Eli? [See Choshen Mishpat 228]

What is the law?

Please email us with your comments and answers at weekly@projectfellow.org.

Read next week's issue for the answer!

LAST WEEK'S CASE

CASE 145: Taxes and the Mysterious Dowry

Blessed with five charming daughters, Dr. and Mrs. Marvin and Hilda Neuberger raised their remarkable children on Manhattan's Upper West Side with a sense of responsibility from an early age.

While many of their girlfriends would fritter their babysitting money and pocket change freely, Dr. Neuberger challenged his daughters to invest their well-deserved earnings for the future. He promised to match any of their childhood savings as a bonus to their dowries. As they matured, the girls accrued sizeable savings.

A natural economist and mathematician, Mrs. Neuberger invested each of her daughter's earnings in numerous long-term CD's and gladly handled the bookkeeping. While Dr. Neuberger kept his side of the deal, Hilda continued to offer her accounting services to her daughters, long after they wed. Hilda alone remained privy to the bank information.

As five families of rambunctious grandchildren began to leave noticeable footprints on Marvin and Hilda's mahogany furniture, as well as joyous handprints on Neubergers' once immaculate off-white living room walls, Grandma Neuberger's mind slowly began to become more suited for spontaneous fun loving grandmother-hood than accurate financing. She realized that by now her daughters matched her once celebrated precision, and responsibly decided that the time had come to hand over the appropriate bankbooks to each of her five daughters.

Four years later, Grandma Neuberger was cleaning her walls and furniture for Passover. As she was rummaging through the papers on her desk, her eyes beheld a windfall - a recently matured CD worth $9,000. Judging by the date on which she had opened the account; Mrs. Neuberger reckoned the CD belonged to one of her two youngest - either to Tammy Stern or to Naomi Adler - both of whom taught math in the local elementary school. All of Hilda's efforts to identify the true owner were to no avail.

- What should Hilda do?

- May she write a check payable to the school's DDF (Dean's discretionary fund), with a request to add the amount to Tammy's and Naomi's holiday bonuses and receive a receipt for a tax-refund in return?

What is the law?

[Submitted by: Mr. J. N., Maryland]

The Answer

We present you here with a concise ruling. For a more intricate elucidation, please see the detailed explanation below.

Tammy and Naomi receive $4,500 each. Mrs. Neuberger may not deem this initial sum a charitable donation. It is noble for Mrs. Neuberger to award $9,000 to both. She may consider the excess a charitable donation. Receiving a tax-exemption for such a donation is subject to local tax-laws, which may differ from country to country (See Application below).

Detailed Explanation

To answer The Mysterious Dowry, let us consider the following scenarios:

Two parties entrust a trustee with securities totaling three hundred dollars.

One party deposits two hundred while the other party deposits one hundred.

The trustee fails to remember the amount deposited by each party.

• I. The trustee bears responsibility for his or her accounting negligence and therefore must pay two hundred to both parties assuming each depositor claims to have deposited the higher sum.

• II. If however, both depositors are uncertain of the sum of their deposits, yet claim that the questionable sum might indeed belong to them, the trustee returns one hundred to each party and should hold the remaining one hundred in escrow until the matter is further clarified.

• III. If neither of the depositors lay any claim whatsoever to the questionable sum, the trustee divides it evenly between the two parties.

Nevertheless, in both scenarios II and III, it is noble for the trustee to return two hundred to each party. [Choshen Mishpat 300: 1, Sha"ch 5]

Application: What should Hilda do?

Tammy and Naomi entrusted their mother with their CDs. Mrs. Neuberger could not identify the owner of the $9,000 CD. While the $9,000 CD belonged either to Tammy or to Naomi, neither one of them laid any claim of ownership thereof. Hence, The Mysterious Dowry is similar to Scenario III

Consequently, Mrs. Neuberger need not award $9,000 to both Tammy and Naomi. Instead, she is required to divide the sum equally between the two daughters, giving $4,500 to each. While not required, it would be noble for Mrs. Neuberger to assign each of them $9000.

May she write a check payable to the school's DDF (Dean's Discretionary Fund), with a request to add the amount to Tammy's and Naomi's holiday bonuses and receive a receipt for a tax-refund in return?

Mrs. Neuberger is required to give 4,500 to both Tammy and Naomi. This sum belongs to them. She cannot write it off as a charitable donation.

Should she wish to act nobly and assign each of them an additional 4,500 from her own funds, she may consider it as a charitable donation.

Whether or not she may receive a tax-refund for requesting the DDF to add the amount to her daughter's holiday bonuses is contingent on local tax laws. For example, in Australian Common Law assuming the institution is not limited under its own constitution, a contributor may hold the institution liable to comply with pre-agreed conditions of a donation.

However, here is a quote from the USA IRS Publication 526 "Charitable Contributions" pg. 4, 7 "Generally, you can deduct your contributions of money or property that you make to, or for the use of, a qualified organization...the contributions must be made to a qualified organization and not set aside for use by a specific person... You cannot deduct contributions to specific individuals including the following...Contributions to individuals who are needy or worthy. This includes contributions to a qualified organization if you indicate that your contribution is for a specific person. But you can deduct a contribution that you give to a qualified organization that in turn helps needy or worthy individuals if you do not indicate that your contribution is for a specific person."

Consequently, in the USA, Mrs. Neuberger can receive a tax deduction for any donation exceeding the initial $9,000 to the DDF, if she does not specify that the sum should go specifically to her daughters. It would seem though, that the DDF maintains the right to use their discretion to award Mrs. Neuberger's daughters with the extra bonus.

[Answered by the Fellow-Yesharim Research Center]

Note:

Although we aim to present the correct ruling, varying details are always important and decisively influence every individual case. Our readers are thus encouraged to present their personal cases to a competent authority and not solely rely on the information provided.

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