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Irons v. Smallpiece

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Plaintiff alleges that his father made a verbal gift of two colts approximately a year before Plaintiff’s father died. Plaintiff’s father did not deliver the two colts to Plaintiff. When Plaintiff’s father died, the father’s executrix refused to deliver the colts to Plaintiff. Thus, Plaintiff brought suit to compel Defendant to deliver the colts. The trial court held that there was not a valid gift to Plaintiff and Defendant was not required to give Plaintiff the two colts.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    One may not transfer property by conducting a verbal gift, unless the donee obtains possession of the property by delivery.

    Facts.

    Plaintiff alleges that his father made a verbal gift to him regarding two colts approximately a year before the father’s death. Plaintiff’s father retained possession of the colts until he died. Six months before Plaintiff’s father died, the father had agreed to sell Plaintiff hay for the colts. However, Plaintiff’s father did not give him the hay until a few days before his death.  Thereafter, the father’s executrix (Defendant) refused to deliver the colts to the Plaintiff. Plaintiff brought suit to compel Defendant to deliver the colts. The trial court held in Defendant’s favor and found Plaintiff’s father did not give Plaintiff a valid gift because the colts had not been delivered to the son.

    Issue.

    Whether one may transfer property by conducting a verbal gift.

    Held.

    No, one may not transfer property by conducting a verbal gift, unless the donee obtains possession of the property by delivery.

    Concurrence.

    For a verbal gifts to be proper, there must be a delivery of possession. Also, merely because Plaintiff’s father delivered the hay to feed the colts does not create a contract between Plaintiff and his father because the hay was not delivered for another several months. Therefore, Plaintiff is not entitled to claim ownership of the colts.

    Discussion.

    The long-standing rule regarding gifts is that property can be validly transferred only upon a written instrument or by actual delivery of possession. A verbal gift is identical to cases of a donatio causa mortis, a gift made in contemplation of death, with the sole difference being the former is not conditioned on the donor’s death. Nonetheless, similar to a donatio causa mortis, the verbal gift is only valid if there is an actual delivery of possession. Therefore, since Plaintiff’s father did not transfer possession of the colts, the colts were not validly given Plaintiff.

     


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