perpetual gift computer system

LeeColleton writes: I have an idea for a gift computer that I would like to legally formalize so that the spirit of my gift would be preserved in perpetuity.

Recently I came into the possession of a laptop computer with a dead battery. (Gateway Solo 2150 battery logic board failure with permanent low voltage signal.. hardware hacking possible?) The system has been given as a gift by the previous six owners, all of whom have been friends or acquaintances. At first I considered selling the laptop for a nominal sum but when I learned of the gift history I knew that in doing this I would incur a karmic debt to the previous stewards of the system.

I have a network card that I am willing to include with this system. I want to make it clear that all repairs and upgrades become a part of the estate and are covered by the terms of the contract.

To practically implement this on a UNIX system I imagine that this would look like a series of files held in a sub-folder of the root directory which would be linked in the home directory of the systems steward. This person would also hold the root password for the system and would be responsible for the executing the transfer of stewardship to the next recipient.

Read Only file describing terms of stewardship signed by each steward with a detached signature such that continuity of agreement can be proven. This should constitute a legal contract that each steward agrees to execute upon disposing of the system (ie. HOWTO give away this computer)

Read & Write file to which the name and GPG key fingerprint of the current steward is appended such that execution of title transfer may be carried out properly. Optionally encrypted and/or zeroed out upon transfer of ownership (think repressive regime).

Read & Execute shell script that prompts the beneficiary to sign the WILL and then adds their name and GPG key fingerprint to the STEWARD file and prompts them to sign that, too.

This seems like the "right way" of doing things to me, but I am open to suggestions. What should the script do? I want this to be of minimal burden to subsequent stewards, but I also want it to be a legal and functional system of designating ownership.

After reading the Filesystem Hierarchy Standard I realize that the /root and /home directories are optional. In light of this, the WILL should go into /usr/share/steward/ and the signatures should be in /etc/steward/ (along with a link to the WILL). The TRANSFER script (Caps okay?) should probably be in /usr/sbin/ as it is not needed to boot the system.

I found some terms on that may be of use.


n. anything that is owned by a person or entity. Property is divided into two types: "real property," which is any interest in land, real estate, growing plants or the improvements on it, and "personal property" (sometimes called "personalty"), which is everything else. "Common property" is ownership by more than one person of the same possession. "Community property" is a form of joint ownership between husband and wife recognized in several states. "Separate property" is property owned by one spouse only in a community property state, or a married woman's sole ownership in some states. "Public property" refers to ownership by a governmental body such as the federal, state, county or city governments or their agencies (e.g. school or redevelopment districts). The government and the courts are obligated to protect property rights and to help clarify ownership.


n. 1) any article, object, asset or property which one owns, occupies, holds or has under control. 2) the act of owning, occupying, holding or having under control an article, object, asset or property. "Constructive possession" involves property which is not immediately held, but which one has the right to hold and the means to get (such as a key to a storeroom or safe deposit box). "Criminal possession" is the holding of property which it is illegal to possess such as controlled narcotics, stolen goods or liquor by a juvenile. The old adage "possession is nine-tenths of the law" is a rule of force and not of law, since ownership requires the right to possess as well as actual or constructive possession.


v. to have legal title or right to something. Mere possession is not ownership.


n. a written document which leaves the estate of the person who signed the will to named persons or entities (beneficiaries, legatees, divisees) including portions or percentages of the estate, specific gifts, creation of trusts for management and future distribution of all or a portion of the estate (a testamentary trust). A will usually names an executor (and possibly substitute executors) to manage the estate, states the authority and obligations of the executor in the management and distribution of the estate, sometimes gives funeral and/or burial instructions, nominates guardians of minor children and spells out other terms. To be valid the will must be signed by the person who made it (testator), be dated (but an incorrect date will not invalidate the will) and witnessed by two people (except in Vermont which requires three). In some states the witnesses must be disinterested, or in some states, a gift to a witness is void, but the will is valid. A will totally in the handwriting of the testator, signed and dated (a "holographic will") but without witnesses, is valid in many, but not all, states. If the will (also called a Last Will and Testament) is still in force at the time of the death of the testator (will writer), and there is a substantial estate and/or real estate, then the will must be probated (approved by the court, managed and distributed by the executor under court supervision). If there is no executor named or the executor is dead or unable or unwilling to serve, an administrator ("with will annexed") will be appointed by the court. A written amendment or addition to a will is called a "codicil" and must be signed, dated and witnessed just as is a will, and must refer to the original will it amends. If there is no estate, including the situation in which the assets have all been placed in a trust, then the will need not be probated. See also: codicil estate executor guardian holographic will last will and testament probate testator


n. the creator of a trust (who normally places the original assets into the trust), called a "settlor" or "donor" in many states. Trustor is a title used primarily in western states.


n. a person or entity who holds the assets (corpus) of a trustee for the benefit of the beneficiaries and manages the trust and its assets under the terms of the trust stated in the declaration of trust which created it. In many "living trusts" the creator of the trust (trustor, settlor) names himself/herself (or themselves) as the original trustee who will manage the trust until his/her death when it is taken over by a successor trustee. In some trusts, such as a "charitable remainder unitrust," the trustee must be independent and therefore cannot be the creator of the trust. If a trustee has title to property, he/she/it holds title only for the benefit of the trust and its beneficiaries.


n. a broad definition for any person or entity (like a charity) who is to receive assets or profits from an estate, a trust, an insurance policy or any instrument in which there is distribution. There is also an "incidental beneficiary" or a "third party beneficiary" who gets a benefit although not specifically named, such as someone who will make a profit if a piece of property is distributed to another.


v. to give personal property under provisions of a will (as distinct from "devise," which is to give real estate). 2) the act of giving any asset by the terms of a will.


n. the gift of personal property under the terms of a will. Bequests are not always outright, but may be "conditional" upon the happening or non-happening of an event (such as marriage), or "executory" in which the gift is contingent upon a future event. Bequest can be of specific assets or of the "residue" (what is left after specific gifts have been made).

conditional bequest

n. in a will, a gift which will take place only if a particular event has occurred by the time the maker of the will dies. Example: Ruth's will provides that "Griselda will receive the nursery furniture if she has children at the time of my death." This is slightly different from an executory bequest, which could provide for a gift to a beneficiary upon the happening of a specified event.


adj. something not yet performed or done. Examples: an executory contract is one in which all or part of the required performance has not been done; an executory bequest is a gift under a will which has not been distributed to the beneficiary.

executory bequest

n. in a will, a gift which will take place upon the happening of a specified event. Example of an executory bequest: a trust provides "Betty shall receive the computer held in trust when the Andy no longer needs it."