Newman v. Bost

FACTS:

            J.F. Van Pelt died without a will in place or children of his own. While bedridden by his illness, Van Pelt summoned his housekeeper of ten years, Julia Newman, i.e. the plaintiff, to his bedside and gave her a set of keys to his house. Van Pelt then proceeded to tell the plaintiff that he wished for her to have everything in his home following his death. After his death, the defendant administrator, Bost, took possession of Van Pelt’s intestate estate due to the aforementioned circumstances. The items in question here include: $300, i.e. insurance money from a destroyed piano collected by Bost, a locked bureau (whose key was included on the set of keys given to the plaintiff), which contained a life insurance policy valued at $3,000, $200.94 of household property in Van Pelt’s estate sold by the defendant administrator, and $45 of items from Van Pelt’s bedroom, which the defendant administrator also sold as part of the estate. In accordance, Newman brought an action of suit against the defendant administrator, claiming that Van Pelt gifted her lawful possession of all of the aforementioned property following his death and, in turn, Bost improperly took/sold the property.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY:

            The previous court [Judge Coble and jury] issued a judgment in favor of the plaintiff, Newman, in an action of suit to recover the value of the property allegedly converted by the defendant as administrator, Bost. Bost now appeals the decision.

ISSUE:

            In a case of an intestate estate, in which the deceased does not have any surviving descendants, is a gift of all the personal property in the house lawfully established by the handing over the keys to the house, its rooms, and the former owner’s locked bureau?

RULE:

            For a donor to lawfully constitute a gift causa mortis or inter vivos, there must be (1) an intention to make the gift and (2) physical, constructive delivery of the thing given if the articles are present and capable of being physically delivered to the donee.

ANALYSIS:

            Per Judge Furches, a few prerequisites exist for a donor to lawfully execute a gift causa mortis or inter mortis, i.e. (1) an intention to make the gift and (2) physical, constructive delivery of the thing given if the articles in question are present and capable of being physically delivered to the donee. If the articles are not present or the donor is incapable of physically delivering them to the donee, constructive delivery can be constituted in some cases if the donor plainly intended for the items to pass to the donee and the items were either not present or unable to be delivered due to size or weight. Here, there is no question of Van Pelt’s intention to gift his property to the plaintiff. The items in question were not present, yet the plaintiff believed that the property was properly gifted by the symbolic delivery of Van Pelt’s all-encompassing set of keys. However, the court ruled that if they allowed symbolic delivery here, then a landslide of cases involving fraud would result. Therefore, the court must establish if constructive delivery of any items lawfully occurred. The court found that the delivery of the keys to the plaintiff properly satisfied constructive delivery of the bureau and any other article of furniture, locked or unlocked by any of the keys in the set, in the home. Hence, any of the such lawfully passed to the plaintiff. On the other hand, the life insurance policy kept inside of the locked bureau was capable of being physically delivered and, as a result, title did not pass to the plaintiff. All other articles of furniture, except those in Van Pelt’s bedroom, also did not pass to the plaintiff, but instead remained property of the defendant administrator. The items in the bedroom were properly passed to the plaintiff via gift inter vivos. Furthermore, the insurance money collected by the defendant from the damaged piano, likely did not pass to the plaintiff due to presently insufficient evidence of actual or constructive delivery. The plaintiff is also entitled to recover $125 as compensation for her services. Overall, the owner of the remaining items in question must be established by the court conducting the new trial in accordance with this court’s opinion.

CONCLUSION:

            The court issued a judgment reversing the trial court’s holding and ordered a new trial in accordance with their opinion.

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