Are Death Bed Gifts Valid?
When someone knows that they will die soon, they may wish to make what are known as ‘death bed gifts’. This usually consists of the dying person verbally telling someone that they want them to inherit. But is this valid? Would that person then inherit what they have been told they should have?
Interestingly, although it may not seem as though these gifts could possibly ever be valid, if they meet certain criteria then they actually can be legally valid. However, it is important to bear in mind that these are very specific requirements, and that writing a will is always the best idea – it makes everything much easier to deal with, and ensures that there are no mistakes made.
A death bed gift (otherwise known as a ‘donatio mortis causa’) must meet three strict requirements for it to be valid.
The first is that this gift must be made in contemplation of death. That does not necessarily mean expectation of death, but that death is fairly imminent. It usually means that death will occur within just a few days of making the gift.
On top of this, the gift must be made on the condition that it can only be given on the death of the person giving it, and until that death occurs, the gift is revocable at any point. Also, if the gift is handed over before death, it won’t be seen as meeting this particular death bed gifting, and will therefore be invalid if there is a contradictory beneficiary noted in the will, for example. If the person giving the gift recovers from the illness which they thought would kill them then again, the gift will be seen as having been revoked, and the person giving the gift will either need to add their preferred receiver to their will, or make another death bed gift if they become ill again (this is obviously a bit of a risk as no one can predict if they would die or not).
Finally, it could be that the person giving the gift hands over a symbol of that gift – this can count. If they give the keys to a safe, for example, with the intention that the person they give the keys to has the contents after they die, this can be seen as a death bed wish. However, if that person opens the safe and removes the contents before the owner dies, this can make that wish invalid. This option can be difficult when it comes to property, however. In the past, the wish may have been expressed by handing over the deeds to a property. In this digital age most people don’t have physical copies of their deeds with them.
So although dead bed wishes and gifts can be valid and legal, they are also much harder to prove than anything written in a will – and with wills taking so little time to put together (for simple estates), they really are the best option.