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Court: Evidence shows car was a gift

September 18, 2008

In a case of first impression, the Indiana Court of Appeals agreed with the trial court that a husband gave his wife a car as a gift, despite registering the title in both his name and his wife's name.

Whether or not a person can make an inter vivos gift of a car where his or her name remains on the title after the gift was delivered is a matter of first impression in Indiana. The issue arose in the case William A. Brackin v. Peggy J. Brackin, No. 05A02-0803-CV-218, in which William Brackin appealed the trial court awarding Peggy Brackin a car in dissolution proceedings that contained both of their names on the title.

The two had a prenuptial agreement that allowed for gifts made during the marriage to remain with the recipient. William argues the car is not a gift because his name is also on the title; Peggy argues he gave her the car.

The Court of Appeals examined the Restatement (Third) of Property: Wills & Other Donative Transfers and other state's caselaw to determine when a donor otherwise meets the requirements of an inter vivos gift of a car but keeps his or her name on the title, a presumption arises the donor didn't have donative intent to make a gift. However, the receiver of the gift can overcome this assumption with clear and convincing evidence, which Peggy provided, wrote Judge Margret Robb.

William told Peggy, "Come out and see the new car I bought you"; she primarily drove the car; and William damaged the car in an angry retaliation directed at her. The appellate court agreed with the trial court that if William believed he owned the car, it wouldn't make sense for him to damage his own property in retaliation, wrote the judge.

William failed to present any evidence negating his donative intent except for the fact his name was also on the car's title.

"Therefore, we find, as a matter of law, the evidence clearly and convincingly establishes William's donative intent and that William and Peggy intended the Lucerne as a gift to Peggy from William," Judge Robb wrote.

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