Gruen v. Gruen


Plaintiff is the son of the deceased painting owner. His father, the prior owner, told him that he would receive the $2,500,00 painting once he passes away, but that he will hold onto until he dies – 2 letters showing this to be true – once father died, defendant (p’s step mother) would not give over the painting.

D argues – donor did not comport with estate laws and further, donor cannot retain possession for the rest of his life, and then give painting away to son

  • Deceased did not intend to transfer any present interest in the painting to plaintiff, but only expressed an intention to give it after his death.


Can a valid inter vivos gift of a chattel be made where he donor has reserved a life estate in the chattel and the donee never has had physical possession of it before the donor’s death?




There must be (1) intent of the donor to make a present transfer, (2) delivery of the gift (either actual or constructive) and (3) acceptance.

Court reasoning

Donative intent

  • “The evidence is all but conclusive that victor intended to transfer ownership of the painting to the plaintiff in 1963, but to retain a life estate in it…therefore he effectively transferred a remainder of interest in the painting to the plaintiff at that time.
  • This is distinguished from a ‘will…a will, you transfer title, and possession upon someone’s death…here, the owner, transferred title, via the gift, but retained possession of the painting until he died.
  • Whether the maker had intended the gift to have no effect until after the maker’s death, or whether he intended it to transfer some present interest.
  • As long as evidence establishes an intern 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.


  • To constitute delivery, must be tailored to suit the circumstances of the case….”the delivery necessary to consummate a gift must be as perfect as the nature of the property and the circumstances and surroundings of the parties will reasonably permit.”
    • It would be illogical to have the donor, part with the gift, when his intentions showed that he transferred title, but wished to retain possession of the good.


  • Acceptance by the donee is essential to the validity of an inter vivos gift, but when a gift is of value to the donee, as it is here, the law will presume an acceptance on his part.

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