Son not allowed to inherit house as a ‘deathbed gift’

A man has been prevented from inheriting a house that he claimed was a ‘deathbed gift’ from his mother.

The case involved a man who had visited his elderly mother regularly to help with her care and welfare shortly before she died.

The mother had not made a will and so her estate, consisting mainly of her house, was to pass to her three children, including the son who had cared for her before her death. However, the son said that she had left the house to him as a ‘deathbed gift’ shortly before she died.

His two siblings disputed this. They provided evidence that a psychiatrist had examined their mother in the months before her death and concluded that she lacked the capacity to manage her affairs properly.

The court found in favour of the siblings. It said that there were strict requirements for a deathbed gift to be considered valid. The donor had to have contemplated impending death and made a gift which would only take effect after that death. Until then, the donor had the right to revoke the gift.

The process was open to abuse and so strict proof of compliance with the conditions was required to validate a deathbed gift.

The judge said that the son’s case was hopeless. His evidence was not reliable. There were contradictions about when the deathbed gift had allegedly been made and the mother had not told anyone else about the gift in the months before her death.

Although her solicitor had asked her to make a will, she had declined and had said nothing about the gift.

In May 2012, the mother had just had her first heart attack but was not hospitalised. She had survived a further six months. In May 2012, she did not have a good reason to anticipate death from an identified cause. In any event, any contemplated death did not occur in May: she recovered so any gift had lapsed.

The facts came nowhere close to satisfying the necessary requirements for a deathbed gift.