Friday, September 21, 2012

Gruen v. Gruen case brief

Gruen v. Gruen 68 N.Y.2d 48, 505 N.Y.S.2d 849, 496 N.E.2d 869 (1986)

-Plaintiff’s father wrote a letter to the Plaintiff on his birthday in which he stated that he was giving his son a Klimit painting but that he wished to retain possession of the painting for his lifetime. -Plaintiff was later instructed to destroy this letter in two subsequent letters sent by his father.
-One of the subsequent letters provided that Plaintiff was to be given the painting and made no mention of his father’s retention of a life estate.
-Plaintiff never took possession of the painting during his father’s lifetime.
-Following his father’s death Plaintiff requested the Klimit painting from his step mother, Defendant, and she refused. Plaintiff then brought this case.

-Can a valid inter vivos gift of chattel, where the donor has reserved a life estate in the chattel and the donee never had physical possession of it before the donor’s death, be made?

HOLDING Yes. Affirmed.
-A valid inter vivos gift of chattel may be made even if the donor reserves a life estate in the chattel for himself.
-The elements of a valid inter vivos gift are present in this case and therefore Plaintiff is the rightful owner of the painting.

RULES -Intent + Delivery + Acceptance = valid inter-vivos gift.
-In order to have a valid inter vivos gift one must show an intent of the part of the donor to make a present transfer, delivery of the gift, and acceptance by the donee.
-A present transfer may include the creation of a remainder in chattel.

ANALYSIS -In order to have a valid inter vivos gift there must be clear and convincing evidence of: (a) an intent on the part of the donor to make the present transfer; (b) delivery of the gift- actual or constructive; and (c) acceptance by the donee.
-If the intention is to make a testamentary disposition effective only after death the gift is invalid unless made in a will.
-However, if the maker intended the gift to transfer some present interest then it will not fail for lack of intent.
-In the present case the P’s father transferred a present interest, the remainder after his life estate, when he wrote the letters to his son.
-Delivery may be either by a physical delivery of the subject of the gift or some constructive or symbolic delivery that divests the donor of dominion or control.
-The circumstances of each case must be observed to see what is sufficient to constitute delivery.
-In this case, physical delivery was not required as it would have been impractical.
-When a gift is of value to the donee the law will presume an acceptance.

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