Rules Of Gift-giving
Three elements are essential in determining whether or not a gift has been made: delivery, donative intent, and acceptance by the donee. Even when such elements are present, however, courts will set aside an otherwise valid gift if the circumstances suggest that the donor was, in actuality, defrauded by the donee, coerced to make the gift, or strongly influenced in an unfair manner. In general, however, the law favors enforcing gifts since every individual has the right to dispose of PERSONAL PROPERTY as he or she chooses.
Delivery Delivery of a gift is complete when it is made directly to the donee, or to a third party on the donee's behalf. In the event that the third person is the donor's agent, bailee, or trustee, delivery is complete only when such person actually hands the property over to the donee.
A delivery may be actual, implied, or symbolic, provided some affirmative act takes place. If, for example, a man wishes to give his grandson a horse, an actual delivery might take place when the donor hires someone to bring the horse to the grandson's farm. Similarly, the symbolic delivery of a car as a gift can take place when the donor hands the keys over to the donee.
Delivery can only occur when the donor surrenders control of the property. For example, an individual who expresses the desire to make a gift of a car to another but continues to drive the car whenever he or she wishes has not surrendered control of the car.
A majority of states are practical about the requirement of a delivery. Where the donor and the donee reside in the same house, it ordinarily is not required that the gift be removed from the house to establish a delivery. If the donee has possession of the property at the time that the donor also gives the person ownership, there is no need to pass the property back and forth in order to make a legal delivery. Proof that the donor relinquished all claim to the gift and recognized the donee's right to exercise control over it is generally adequate to indicate that a gift was made.
In instances where delivery cannot be made to the donee, as when the person is out of the country at the time, delivery can be made to someone else who agrees to accept the property for the donee. If the individual accepting delivery is employed by the donor, however, the court will make the assumption that the donor has not rendered control of the property and that delivery has not actually been made. The individual accepting delivery must be holding the property for the donee and not for the donor.
In situations where the donee does not have legal capacity to accept delivery, such delivery can be made to an individual who will hold it for him or her. This might, for example, occur in the case of an infant.
Donative Intent Donative intent to make a gift is essentially determined by the donor's words, but the courts also consider the surrounding circumstances, the relationship of the parties, the size of the gift in relation to the amount of the donor's property as a whole, and the behavior of the donor toward the property subsequent to the purported gift.
The donor must have the legal capacity to make a gift. For example, INFANTS or individuals judged to be unable to attend to their own affairs have a legal disability to make a gift.
In addition, an intent to make a gift must actually exist. For example, a landlord who rents a house to a tenant does not have the intent to give such premises to the tenant, even though the tenant takes possession for an extended period of time. Similarly, a gift to the wrong person will not take effect. If an individual mistakenly gives gold jewelry to an imposter who is believed to be a niece, the gift is invalid because there was no intention to benefit anyone but the niece.
The intent must be present at the time the gift is made. For example, if one person promises to give a house to an artist "someday," the promise is unenforceable because there is no intent to make an effective gift at the time the promise is made. The mere expectation that something will someday be given is not legally adequate to create a gift.
Acceptance The final requirement for a valid gift is acceptance, which means that the donee unconditionally agrees to take the gift. It is necessary for the donee to agree at the same time the delivery is made. The gift can, however, be revoked at any time prior to acceptance.
A court ordinarily makes the assumption that a gift has been accepted if the gift is beneficial, or unless some event has occurred to indicate that it is not.