What Is a Deed of Gift?

Staci A. Terry

A deed of gift is formal legal agreement by which one party transfers legal ownership and rights to specified property, whether personal or real property, to someone else. One common use for this occurs when a person decides to donate historical documents or materials to a historical foundation or museum. In this case, a deed governs the legal relationship between the donor and the organization, and the conditions under which the donor gives ownership of the materials to the organization. In this sense, the deed protects the interests of both parties and establishes the legal rights of each party with respect to the property specified in the deed.

A notary public might be called upon to witness the signing of a deed of gift.
A notary public might be called upon to witness the signing of a deed of gift.

More specifically, a deed of gift sets forth the conditions of the gift, any restrictions placed on use of the gift, disposal of unwanted property, further transfer of the gift to unrelated persons, and any other provisions that the parties wish to include in it. The legal requirements for elements or information to be included may vary from one jurisdiction to another. Some places require the deed to contain the signatures of not only the parties to the agreement, but also of a certain number of witnesses. Other jurisdictions may mandate that a notary public witness and certify all signatures to the deed.

A gift deed is an official legal document used to give a gift of property or money to another person.
A gift deed is an official legal document used to give a gift of property or money to another person.

In some jurisdictions, there are additional requirements to carry out the legal transfer of the title of the property that is the subject of the deed, particularly when it involves real property or land. For example, some places require that the parties formally record the deed as of record. In the case of written materials, there may be copyright issues to address. Enlisting the assistance of an attorney can be invaluable in executing any deed to ensure that the person who made the gift has complied with all applicable laws and requirements.

Probably the most famous agreement of this type involves the America’s Cup, a famous sailing race. The Deed of Gift is the instrument that sets forth the official sailing rules for the America’s Cup. Originally written in 1852, the owners of the yacht America, which won the first America’s Cup, transferred ownership of the trophy to the New York Yacht Club in 1857. Legally, it is a trust document registered with the Supreme Court of the State of New York.

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