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Who Keeps the Engagement Ring? A Lesson In Gift Taxes

by | Jul 31, 2023 | "Value", Diamond Education, Engagement Rings

A fancy border in the Victorian style

The question of who keeps the engagement ring in the event of a broken engagement or divorce is more than just a matter of tradition or sentiment; it’s a complex issue with legal and financial implications. This article explores the different facets of this question, from legal ownership and gift taxes to creative solutions like treating the ring as a loan. Whether you’re planning a proposal or navigating the unfortunate end of an engagement, understanding these aspects can help you make informed decisions.


  • Traditional Approach: The engagement ring is typically returned to the buyer if the engagement ends, but legal interpretations can vary.
  • Gift Taxes: In the US, gift taxes may apply if the ring is worth more than $17,000, potentially leading to substantial tax obligations for the giver.
  • The Loan Solution: Treating the engagement ring as a loan until the wedding can avoid tax issues, turning it into a gift only upon marriage.
  • Appraisals and Fair Market Value: Understanding the fair market value of the ring and obtaining appropriate appraisals can be crucial, especially for higher-value rings.
  • Legal Complexities: Courts have the final say in disputes over engagement rings, and common practices may not always apply.

The End of the Engagement

The end of an engagement is a situation no one wants to face. The question of who keeps the engagement ring often arises. Most people desire to handle this matter fairly, but the answer isn’t always straightforward.

Traditionally, if an engagement ends, the ring is returned to the person who purchased it. If both parties contributed financially to the ring, they negotiate. Legally, the situation is ambiguous. The engagement ring can be considered a gift, with all ownership rights transferred at the time of giving, or it might be viewed as part of a contract that isn’t fulfilled until the marriage occurs. As one might imagine, disputes over this issue are common.

After marriage, the dynamics change. In the case of divorce, most courts tend to rule that the engagement ring was a “pre-marital gift” and therefore not joint property. In other words, the ring and all rights to it belong to the recipient of the gift, with no residual strings attached. It’s essential to remember that courts have the final say, and common practices may not always apply.

Gift Taxes and Engagement Rings

In the US, most taxpayers can gift up to $17,000 to anyone without incurring a tax obligation.* While gifts to a spouse are exempt, what about a fiancé or fiancée? They have no legal status in this matter, so the limit applies as it would to any other non-spouse. If the engagement ring is considered a pre-marital gift and is valued at more than $17,000, gift tax may be owed at the ordinary income rate for the giver. For those in higher tax brackets, this can be substantial. For example, a $200,000 ring could result in $58,000 in taxes, plus any state or local obligations, due in the tax year of the gift.

A Potential Solution: The Ring as a Loan

One way to navigate this complex issue is to treat the engagement ring as a loan rather than a gift. The recipient can wear the ring in anticipation of future marriage, and it becomes a “gift” with the words “with this ring I thee wed.” As a spouse, you can give your partner whatever you want without tax implications to either of you.

A Special Note on Jewelry Appraisals

Gift Tax is based on the Fair Market Value (FMV) of the engagement ring as of the date of the gift, which may differ from the purchase price. If you’re in a higher tax bracket, consider obtaining two appraisals. One for insurance purposes and one for FMV as of the date of the gift or marriage. If the value exceeds $17,000 (in 2023), consult with your tax advisor and ensure that your appraiser understands the question. There may be significant financial implications to consider.

In conclusion, the question of who keeps the engagement ring, whether during a broken engagement or divorce, is multifaceted. Understanding the legal and tax implications can help both parties navigate this sensitive issue with clarity and fairness.

*No part of this article should be construed as financial or tax advice. Consult the relevant professional before making any financial or legal decisions.

Do You Need A Jewelry Appraisal in Denver, Colorado?

The American Gem Registry provides a variety of jewelry appraisal services in Denver, Colorado:

  • Gem and Jewelry Appraisals
  • Estate Evaluations
  • Expert Witness
  • Pre-Custom Consultation
  • Re-Cut Consultation
  • Damage Consultation
  • Restoration Evaluation
  • Fair-Market Value Appraisals
  • Insurance Appraisals

If you have any questions, please call during my normal business hours at the number below. Or, you can schedule your Jewelry Appraisal Appointment online today!

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