Gruen v. Gruen

68 N.Y.2d 48, 505 N.Y.S.2d 849, 496 N.E.2d 869 (1986)

 

RULE:

To make a valid inter vivos gift there must exist the intent on the part of the donor to make a present transfer; delivery of the gift, either actual or constructive to the donee; and acceptance by the donee.

FACTS:

A father gifted his son with a painting during his lifetime. He, however, had possessed the painting and asserted that his father made a valid gift of the title in 1963 reserving a life estate for himself. The father held possession of this painting until his death. After his death, the stepmother of the son, took possession of the painting. She refused to give the painting to her stepson on the basis that the gift was testamentary in nature and invalid because the formalities of a will were not met. The lower court ruled in favor of the son, holding that a valid gift was made. The case was appealed to the Court of Appeals of New York.

ISSUE:

Was the donation valid?

ANSWER:

Yes.

CONCLUSION:

The court ruled that an inter vivos gift requires that the donor intend to make an irrevocable present transfer of ownership. If the intention is to make a testamentary disposition effective only after death, the gift is invalid unless made by will. As long as the evidence establishes an intent to make a present and irrevocable transfer of title or the right of ownership, there is a present transfer of some interest and the gift is effective immediately.

As to delivery and acceptance, Acceptance by the donee is essential to the validity of an inter vivos gift, but when a gift is of value to the donee, the law will presume an acceptance on his part. Delivery need not be physical. The Court held that where the evidence is all but conclusive that the donor intended to transfer ownership of a painting to plaintiff in 1963 but to retain a life estate in it, the donor effectively transferred a remainder interest in the painting to plaintiff at that time.

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