A deed of gift is a signed document that voluntarily and without recompense transfers ownership of real, personal, or intellectual property – such as a gift of materials – from one person or institution to another. It should include any possible conditions specifying access, use, preservation, etc. of the gift, although these are generally discouraged by recipient institutions.
A deed is any legal instrument in writing which passes, or affirms or confirms something which passes, an interest, right, or property and that is signed, attested, delivered, and in some jurisdictions sealed. A deed, also known as an instrument in solemn form, is the most formal type of private instrument requiring not only the maker of the deed (grantor, transferor) but also attesting witnesses as signatories. A deed has therefore a greater presumption of validity and is less rebuttable than an instrument under hand, i.e., signed by the party to the deed only, or an instrument under seal. A deed can be unilateral or bilateral. Deeds include conveyances, commissions, licenses, patents, diplomas, and conditionally powers of attorney if executed as deeds. The deed is the modern descendant of the medieval charter, and delivery is thought to symbolically replace the ancient ceremony of livery of seisin.
The use of attesting witnesses has replaced to a large extent the former use of seals to create a higher degree of formalism; this explains the traditional formula signed, sealed and delivered and why agreements under seal are also called contracts by deed. Where the use of seals continues, deeds are nothing more than a special type of instrument under seal, hence the name specialty for a contract under seal. Specialities differ from a simple contract, i.e., a contract under hand, in that they are enforceable without consideration (i.e. gratuitous), in some jurisdictions have a liability limitation period of double that of a simple contract, and allow for a third party beneficiary to enforce an undertaking in the deed, thereby overcoming the doctrine of privity. Specialities, as a form of contract, are bilateral and can therefore be distinguished from covenants, which, being also under seal, are unilateral promises.
At common law, to be valid and enforceable, a deed must fulfill several requirements:
It must state on its face it is a deed, using wording like “This Deed…” or “executed as a deed”.
It must indicate that the instrument itself conveys some privilege or thing to someone. This is indicated by using the word hereby or the phrase by these presents in the clause indicating the gift.
The grantor must have the legal ability to grant the thing or privilege, and the grantee must have the legal capacity to receive it.
It must be executed by the grantor in presence of the prescribed number of witnesses, known as instrumentary witnesses (this is known as being in solemn form).
A seal must be affixed to it. Originally, affixing seals made persons parties to the deed and signatures were optional, but most jurisdictions made seals outdated, and now the signatures of the grantor and witnesses are primary.
It must be delivered to (delivery) and accepted by the grantee (acceptance).