SW Legal Educational Publishing

Delivery of Check and Combination to Safe Before Death Did Not Make a Valid Gift
Description Writing a check to a person immediately before death and asserting that the contents of a safe also belonged to that person, , did not create a valid gift. The check and contents of the safe remain a part of the estate of the deceased.
Topic Wills, Estates, and Trusts
Key Words Valid Gift
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Immediately before his death by suicide, DH mailed his son, SH, a check for $220,000 payable to DH's wife, and told him to cash the check "before my will is probated." DH also mailed SH the combination to a safe and told him "the contents belong to your mother" (DH's wife). SH found $220,000 in the safe. DH's will provided for two trusts: one for DH's wife; the other for various family members. When family members began to fight over the money, the court had to determine whether a gift had been made, or if the check and cash in the safe were gifts that had been properly completed.
Decision For there to be a valid gift, there must be donative intent and actual or constructive delivery. Here there appears to be donative intent, but there was not sufficient delivery. Mailing the combination to the safe to a third party (SH) was not sufficient. DH knew he had a will, and he knew how to amend it; the contents of the safe belong to the estate, not DH's wife. The check was also not a valid gift because the funds remained in the bank until after DH's death. He could have revoked the check any time after he wrote it until the funds had been transferred, so there was not delivery of the gift. The money stays in the estate.
Citation Huskins v. Huskins, 517 S.E.2d 146 (Ct. App., N.C., 1999)

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