gift, in law, voluntary transfer of property from one person to another without any compensation for it and without any obligation of an agreement or contract. The one who gives is the donor; the one who receives the gift, the donee. There are two main classes of gifts, gifts inter vivos and gifts causa mortis. The former is an outright transfer of property, the ordinary type of gift. A gift causa mortis, on the other hand, resembles a legacy, or bequest made under a will. It is a gift made by a person in expectation of imminent death and is not complete until the donor dies. The donor in such a situation may make a gift by delivering the goods or note or whatever is the subject of the gift to the donee, but the donor retains full title to the gift and may revoke it at any time before his death. The ordinary gift inter vivos is complete and unconditional as soon as the delivery of the gift is made. The nature of the gift is of considerable importance in taxation. In both types of gifts, it is essential that there be an actual and full delivery of the article given as well as donative intent on the part of the donor. The delivery may be by handing to the donee or by giving it to some other person for the donee, but in all cases the delivery must be such as to take the property given out of the hands and the control of the donor. Commonly gifts are spoken of as involving both real estate and personal property. The law does not recognize a true gift of real estate, for real estate can be transferred only by deed or will. Gifts in law are only of personal property. A promise to deliver a gift in the future, or a promise to make a gift, unless under seal or made under very unusual circumstances, cannot be legally enforced. A gift should be distinguished from a barter or exchange, as the element of consideration (payment of some sort) necessary for the latter two is not present in a gift.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.