The Validity of an Inter Vivos Gift
On September 25, 2016, 60 Minutes highlighted an interesting estate planning issue involving Pablo Picasso and inter vivos gifts. An inter vivos gift is a transfer of property from a donor to a donee, during the donor’s lifetime.
This story involved the family’s long-time electrician of 15 years and family friend, Pierre Le Guennec, who claimed he was gifted a briefcase filled with the artist’s work. The briefcase contained 271 works and 2 full sketch pads, all unsigned, that dated from 1900-1932. Many years later, Le Guennec contacted the Picasso Administration in order to get the pieces valued for his own succession planning purposes, and to have the pieces authenticated. Picasso’s son, Claude, a representative from the Picasso Administration, met Le Guennec and his wife and assumed that the pieces were stolen due to inconsistencies in the story about how the pieces came into Le Guennec’s possession. The pieces were valued at around $100 million.
In February 2015, after authorities had the artwork seized and Le Guennec and his wife had been put in custody, Le Guennec went on trial. The authorities could not prove the theft but convicted Le Guennec of possessing stolen property. He was given a two year suspended sentence, along with his wife, and is appealing.
The aformentioned raises the question of how to prove an inter vivos gift. In order to perfect a gift, and to have a valid gift, there are three necessary elements:
- intention to donate;
- acceptance by the done; and
- sufficient act of delivery and transfer
As per Johnstone v Johnstone,  OJ No 58, the onus of proving that a gift is valid is on the recipient of the gift. The recipient must show a clear and unmistakable intention by the donor to have given the gift, and that the gift was given voluntarily by the donor.
In order to challenge an inter vivos gifts, the challenger must prove undue influence, fraud, coercion, mistake, or lack of capacity. We have previously blogged, and uploaded a podcast, on undue influence.
In order to properly document an inter vivos gift, it is best for the donor to show evidence of intention. Intention is the most difficult aspect of the test to prove, and without intention, the gift cannot be perfected. It is best to have witnesses who have seen the giving of the gift, or professionals such as solicitors who may have been aware of the gift. If intention is not proven, it will be assumed that the “gift” was instead a resulting trust. If an individual can show intention of both legal and beneficial title, the exchange will be seen as a gift.
Thank you for reading,