Equity Not Perfects on Imperfect Gift

March 08, 2024
Micheal James

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In the realm of law, particularly within the framework of equity, the doctrine of equitable gifts holds significant relevance. One fundamental aspect of this doctrine is the principle that “equity does not perfect an imperfect gift.” This concept pertains to situations where a person intends to gift property but fails to complete all the necessary formalities, thereby rendering the gift imperfect. This essay delves into the intricacies of equitable gifts, exploring the underlying principles, historical development, legal precedents, and contemporary applications within the context of modern law.

Understanding Equitable Gifts:

Equitable gifts refer to transactions where a donor expresses a clear intention to give property to a donee, but the gift is incomplete due to the absence of proper formalities. In such cases, equity intervenes to enforce the donor’s intention, provided certain conditions are met. However, equity does not rectify deficiencies in the gift if the donor’s intention is not sufficiently evidenced or if legal requirements are not fulfilled.

Historical Development:

The doctrine of equitable gifts has its roots in English common law and equitable principles dating back centuries. Historically, courts of equity recognized the importance of giving effect to a donor’s intentions while also upholding legal formalities to ensure certainty and fairness in property transactions. Over time, legal doctrines and precedents evolved to strike a balance between the donor’s intentions and the need for legal certainty.

Legal Principles and Precedents:

In English law, the seminal case of Milroy v Lord (1862) established the principle that equity does not perfect an imperfect gift. In this case, the donor attempted to transfer shares to the donee but failed to complete the necessary formalities. The court held that without proper execution or delivery of the shares, the gift remained incomplete, and equity could not intervene to perfect it. Subsequent cases, such as Re Rose (1952), further affirmed this principle, emphasizing the importance of compliance with legal requirements.

Contemporary Applications:

The doctrine of equitable gifts continues to shape modern property law, particularly in cases involving informal or incomplete transactions. Courts assess the donor’s intentions and the extent to which they have been manifested, weighing them against legal formalities. In cases where the donor has taken significant steps to transfer property but falls short of meeting all legal requirements, equity may intervene to enforce the gift, provided the donor’s intentions are clear and unequivocal.

Challenges and Limitations:

Despite its importance in property law, the doctrine of equitable gifts presents challenges and limitations. Determining the donor’s intentions and assessing the adequacy of evidence can be complex, leading to uncertainty and litigation. Moreover, the doctrine may conflict with statutory requirements, creating inconsistencies in legal outcomes. Additionally, the application of equitable principles in specific cases may vary, leading to differing interpretations and outcomes.


The doctrine of equitable gifts, encapsulated by the principle that “equity does not perfect an imperfect gift,” remains a cornerstone of property law. While equity seeks to uphold the donor’s intentions, it also recognizes the need for legal formalities to ensure clarity and fairness in property transactions. Through a careful balance of equitable principles and legal requirements, courts strive to achieve justice and certainty in resolving disputes related to incomplete or informal gifts. As property law continues to evolve, the doctrine of equitable gifts will undoubtedly play a crucial role in shaping legal outcomes and preserving the integrity of property transactions.

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