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Foster v. Reiss

Supreme Court of New Jersey
112 A.2d 553 (1955)



Prior to undergoing major surgery in 1951, Ethel Reiss wrote a note to her husband, Mr. Reiss (defendant). The note contained instructions for how to distribute certain possessions of hers, and where to find said possessions. The tone of the note indicated that Ms. Reiss was aware she may die during the surgery, and as a result, she included instructions on where to find her will. The note granted Mr. Reiss access to several of Ms. Reiss’ bank accounts, and distributed smaller possessions to her children. Ms. Reiss died soon after her surgery. Her will granted Mr. Reiss $1, with the rest of her estate to be distributed among her children and grandchildren. Ms. Reiss’ personal representative (plaintiff) then brought this action against Mr. Reiss to recover the money from the bank accounts mentioned in Ms. Reiss’ note to Mr. Reiss. The trial court ruled in favor of Ms. Reiss’ personal representative, stating that no gift had taken place granting Mr. Reiss the money from the bank accounts in question. Mr. Reiss appealed, with the appellate division reversing the trial court’s decision. Ms. Reiss’ personal representative then petitioned for certiorari to the Supreme Court of New Jersey.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Vanderbilt, C.J.)

Dissent (Jacobs, J.)

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Questions & Answers

If an item has already been placed in the possession of another, per a bailment agreement in which an item was loaned, then would a gift causa mortis require that the donor reacquire the item in order to gift it to the donee who had possession?

If I were to loan someone my car, with the agreement that they would return it, and then suddenly became hospitalized facing death, could I give that person in possession of my car a gift causa mortis without first regaining possession of the car?

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