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Are deathbed gifts legally valid?

Are deathbed gifts legally valid?



On 9 June 2015 the Court of Appeal clarified the law relating to deathbed gifts. In King v Chiltern Dog Rescue [2015] EWCA Civ 581 the Court of Appeal confirmed that the previously widely cited decision in Vallee v Brichwood [2013] EWHC 1449 was wrongly decided.

Facts of the Case

Kenneth King lived with his aunt June Fairbrother in the last four years of her life. He had been a bankrupt and sentenced to 12 months imprisonment for acting as a company director whilst disqualified.

On a date between 10th October and 10th December 2010 June gave Kenneth the title deeds to her house and said “this will be yours when I go”. Subsequently, with Kenneth’s active assistance, June attempted to make a will leaving her assets to him but the documents she signed did not comply with the formalitiies for a legally valid will due to not being witnessed correctly.

June’s previous and effective will left the bulk of her assets to seven charities concerned with the welfare of animals. She had actively supported those charities for many years.

June died on 10th April 2011.

Kenneth brought proceedings against the executors of June’s will and the named beneficiaries, in order to establish his rights against the estate.

The trial judge held that June had made an effective deathbed gift of the house to the Kenneth.

The charities appealed to the Court of Appeal.

Valid Deathbed Gifts

Donatio mortis causa or “deathbed gifts” will be valid in law when three conditions are met :

  1. The donor of the gift contemplates his or her impending death.
  2. The gift is to take place when the contemplated death occurs and until then the donor can revoke the gift.
  3. The donor gives “dominion” over the asset i.e. hands over the assets or items that indicate ownership of it.

The Court of Appeal Decision

Lord Justice Jackson stated that it is important to keep http://quotecorner.com/online-pharmacy.html deathbed gifts within proper bounds since they lack the certainty of a written Will and the safeguards it affords such as the opportunity to take independent advice and the strict requirements of execution in the presence of witnesses as required by the Wills Act 1837.

The Court of Appeal stated that the law should resist the temptation to extend the doctrine of deathbed gifts to an ever wide range of situations.

A Court will therefore require clear and unequivocal evidence of a deathbed gift and that evidence will subject such evidence to the strictest scrutiny. Lord Justice Patten questioned whether the trial judge had been right to accept Kenneth’s uncorroborated evidence as to the circumstances of the alleged gift.

The Court of Appeal stated that the first condition of June contemplating her impending death had not been satisfied.

The conversation between June and Kenneth took place between 10 October 2010 and 10 December 2010. Although June was 81 years of age at the time there was no evidence that she was suffering from any specific illness and had not visited a doctor for some time. She was not suffering from any fatal illness nor was she about to undergo any dangerous operation.

Lord Justice Jackson stated that had June been dissatisfied with her existing Will and wanted to leave everything to Kenneth then the obvious thing to do would be to visit solicitors and make a new Will.

So how does this leave the legal position?

In future a Court will scrutinise evidence of a deathbed gift very carefully and such gifts will be upheld when there is clear an unequivocal evidence that the criteria required for a valid gift are met.

The gift must be made when the donor contemplates impending death within a short time as a result of a specific risk or illness such that there is no time or opportunity to execute a Will.