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27 November, 2017
A recent case has highlighted the uncertainty surrounding deathbed gifts, and the importance of seeking legal advice if you or a loved one are considering making a deathbed gift.
A deathbed gift is a gift made in contemplation of death, conditional on death. While in some instances these gifts may be successful, the case of Keeling v Keeling is a reminder of the strict criteria that must be satisfied in order for a deathbed gift to be considered valid.
In this case Mr Keeling, the brother of the deceased, claimed that following a heart attack his sister passed him the keys and title deeds to her home and told him that she would rather he had the house than anybody else. When Mrs Exler passed away six months later, the Court held that the strict requirements required to create a valid deathbed gift were not satisfied, and the gift therefore failed.
In order to create a valid deathbed gift, it is essential that the donor contemplates their impending death, that the gift will only take effect if and when their contemplated death occurs, and that the donor hands over the assets such as title deeds and keys. Although Mr Keeling was in possession of the keys and title deeds to the property, the alleged gift was made six months prior to the death. Not only was Mrs Exler not hospitalised following the heart attack, she made a recovery and the 'contemplated death' did not occur until six months later and the gift consequently lapsed. The first requirement was therefore not satisfied and the gift was deemed to be invalid. The estate was subsequently divided between Mr Keeling and three other family members under the rules of intestacy.
This case is a reminder that deathbed gifts often raise a number of issues, and may be deemed invalid. If you are concerned over the validity of a deathbed gift it is essential to seek legal advice to avoid any uncertainty.