Brief Fact Summary. The Plaintiff, Michael Gruen (Plaintiff), commenced an action seeking a declaration that he is the rightful owner of a painting that his now deceased father had given to him, despite the fact that he never retained possession of the painting.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. In order for an inter vivos gift to be valid, there must be intent on the part of the donor to make a gift, delivery by the donor to the donee and acceptance of the gift by the donee. An inter vivos gift requires that the donor intend to make an irrevocable present transfer of ownership. Delivery of the gift can be by physical delivery or constructive delivery, sufficient to divest the donor of dominion of the property. Acceptance by the donee will be presumed when the gift is of value to the donee.
Issue. Whether a valid intervivos gift of a chattel may be made where the donor has reserved a life estate in the chattel and the donee never has had physical possession of it before the donor’s death?
Held. Affirmed. A valid intervivos gift was made as the donor intended to make a gift to his son, only constructive delivery was needed as actual delivery of the painting to the Plaintiff would have defeated the donor’s intent to retain a life estate in the painting and acceptance is deemed presumed as it is a benefit to the donee.
Discussion. A valid intervivos gift, a gift made during the lifetime of the donor, requires the intent of the donor to make a gift, actual or constructive delivery of the gift and acceptance by the donee. A donor can retain a life estate in a gift and constructive delivery will be acceptable in such a situation as it would be nonsensical to actually deliver the gift to the donee and then immediately take it back for the remainder of the donor’s lifetime.