You win! The doctrine of symbolic or constructive delivery of lifetime gifts is well-established. There are many examples such as gifting securities by delivering a stock power, gifting an automobile by delivering the keys with an endorsed title certificate, or gifting jewelry located in a rental locker by delivering an access key.
There is even a court case that is almost identical to your situation. In Gruen v. Gruen, 505 N.Y.S.2d 849 (N.Y. App. 1986) a father gifted his valuable Gustav Klimt painting as a 21st birthday present to his son by letters declaring that intention, in which he retained a life estate while the painting remained in the father’s home.
When the father died, the son requested the painting from his stepmother. She refused, claiming it as a marital asset. The son’s claim of a completed gift prior to his father’s death was upheld by the court.
“What Victor Gruen gave plaintiff was not all rights to the Klimt painting, but only title to it with no right of possession until his death…The letters unambiguously establish that Victor Gruen intended to make a present gift of title to the painting at that time.”
Ask Doctor Law appears every monthly first Monday in Business Monday. Send questions to email@example.com. Martin E. Segal, a licensed attorney, lectures in business law at the University of Miami School of Business Administration.
Disclaimer: This column is not intended to solicit legal business or furnish self-help legal advice. Laws vary from state to state. Readers are strongly urged to consult independent and qualified legal professionals before making any business decisions. The views expressed are those of the writer and not of The Miami Herald.