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I gave my friend an old Les Paul guitar which I subsequently learned was worth a lot, so I wanted it back. I had given it to him only because he needed it for a class. He has dropped the class. Can I reclaim the guitar since he broke that agreement?

Or is more required to make a scenario like this a "conditional" gift?

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    This is covered under this question: law.stackexchange.com/questions/24391/can-you-take-back-a-gift – user6726 Feb 27 '19 at 17:00
  • Possible duplicate of Can you take back a gift? – Nij Feb 27 '19 at 18:37
  • What do you mean by "agreement"? Do you have a contract? – user6726 Feb 27 '19 at 21:59
  • In the linked question, the gift was clearly ubconditional. Here the asker is suggesting that it might have been condition, indeed that is the whole point of this question. The answer to the linked question is thus quite irrelevant to thsi wuestion, and the question should not be closed as a duplicate. – David Siegel Feb 27 '19 at 22:52
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    But the other answer does not at all handle this question, it doesn't even address the issue here. I would vote to reopen if this was closed. – David Siegel Feb 28 '19 at 13:57
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Transfer of Personal Property

The question is: are you still the owner of the guitar or is your friend now the owner.

If you gifted them the guitar, they are the owner. A gift requires:

  • intention to transfer title (you had this),
  • delivery of the property (this happened),
  • acceptance of the delivery by the recipient (he took it).

At first glance, the guitar is now his.

The concept of a conditional gift is irrelevant once the transfer has taken place - it relates to the promise to gift in the future if some condition is met and, unlike a contract, is not binding. If you have a conditional gift you can decide not to give the gift up until you make the transfer - after that, the item is no longer yours.

You are now trying to make out that the transfer was by operation of a contract. This seems unlikely - see What is a contract and what is required for them to be valid?

In particular I doubt that there was an intention to create legal relations or that the agreement was sufficiently detailed - was he required to attend the class? complete the class? enroll in the class? something else? You may have been clear in your mind that the guitar was for the class - was he? Or did the conversation go like "I'm taking a guitar class.", "Cool, I have a guitar I can give you."

Even if there was a contract and he broke it, you are not entitled to the guitar back. You are entitled to the damage that you suffered by him not completing the class. Presumably, this would be the cost of hiring a competent amateur guitarist to play for you a few times.

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can I reclaim the guitar since he broke that agreement?

Yes. His decision to break the agreement allows for rescission of the "contract" (I assume you are in a jurisdiction of North America or Western Europe).

For litigation purposes, this boils down to one key question: Can it be proved that your friend was aware that your reason for the gift was "purely because he needed it for a class"? If so, then there was a meeting of the minds, whence dropping the class clearly forfeits his entitlement to keep the guitar.

Absent proof of your friend's awareness, your entitlement to recover the guitar is not necessarily ruled out. However, this would require you to delve in circumstantial details so as to persuade a court that principles of equity entitle you to the recovery. Also, the fact that you did not value your guitar that much at the time of giving it away might work to your detriment if your friend mentions it in court. That would only heighten the burden that you will need to overcome (thus, you should not allude to your initially mistaken assessment of the guitar).

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  • What makes you think there is a contract if 1) there is no apparent consideration for the OP and 2) they're friends, so presumption of no intention to create legal relations applies? – Greendrake Feb 28 '19 at 6:43
  • @Greendrake (1) For the formation of a contract, what matters is that an exchange of considerations occurs, regardless of whether each party obtains utility in its most ordinary or direct sense. See Restatement (Second) of Contracts at §17(2) and §86(2)(b). (2) The existence of friendship does not (and cannot) negate an intention to create legal relations. If anything, friendship justifies or reinforces the presumption of good faith that is prerequisite in contract law. – Iñaki Viggers Feb 28 '19 at 12:56
  • "what matters is that an exchange of considerations occurs" - I know that's not true in Scots law. It may well not be true in other jurisdictions. I also don't see any consideration going to the OP. – Martin Bonner supports Monica Feb 28 '19 at 14:11
  • @MartinBonner "I also don't see any consideration going to the OP". Because you are thinking only in terms of "benefit of the OP" in its most utilitarian sense and suppressing the broader legal meaning of consideration. See Black's Law Dictionary entry for Consideration (particularly the Contracts section): "The inducement to a contract. [...] *either of benefit to the plaintiff or of detriment to the defendant" (emphasis added). Here, the detriment to the OP's friend is the friend's time, effort, and expense of taking guitar classes, which induced the OP to cede his guitar. – Iñaki Viggers Feb 28 '19 at 14:34
  • "The existence of friendship does not (and cannot) negate an intention to create legal relations." Agreements between friends fall under the "social agreements" class which presume NO intention to create legal relations. An evidence (e.g. written contract) will rebut this but there was none in the OP case. – Greendrake Mar 1 '19 at 2:36

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