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Irons v. Smallpiece

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Plaintiff claimed that his father made a verbal gift to him of two colts. Plaintiff sued to compel delivery of the colts. The trial court held that there had been no valid gift because the colts had not been delivered to Plaintiff.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    Property cannot be transferred through a verbal gift unless possession of the property is delivered to the donee.

    Facts.

    Plaintiff claimed that his father had made a verbal gift to him of two colts about a year before the father’s death. The father retained possession of the colts until his death. Six months before he died, the father had agreed to sell Plaintiff hay for the colts. The father provided no hay until a few days before his death. The father’s executrix (Defendant) refused to deliver the colts to Plaintiff. Plaintiff sued to compel delivery of the colts. The trial court held that there had been no valid gift because the colts had not been delivered to Plaintiff.

    Issue.

    Whether property can be validly transferred through a verbal gift if possession of the property has not been delivered to the done.

    Held.

    No. The colts were not validly given to Plaintiff. Property cannot be transferred through a verbal gift unless possession of the property is delivered to the donee.

    Concurrence.

    Verbal gifts require delivery of possession. That rule determines this case. The delivery of the hay to feed the colts did not create a contract between the father and Plaintiff, because the hay was not delivered for several months after the agreement was made to provide it. Thus, the plaintiff has no basis for claiming ownership of the colts.

    Discussion.

    Property cannot be transferred through a verbal gift unless possession of the property has been delivered to the donee. It is a long-standing rule that property can be validly transferred only through a written instrument or by actual delivery of possession. Verbal gifts are essentially identical to cases of a donatio causa mortis (a gift made in contemplation of death). The only difference is that a verbal gift is not conditional, while a donatio causa mortis is conditioned on the death of the donor. A donatio causa mortis is valid only if there is actual delivery of possession, and the same rule will apply to verbal gifts. There was no transfer of possession in this case.


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