Gruen v. Gruen

Facts

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.

Issue

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?

Holding

Affirmed.

Rule

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.

Delivery

  • 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

  • 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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