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Lunchtime charity seminar: challenging the “deathbed gift”

In the third of our lunchtime contentious trust and probate seminars (13 April 2016) we welcomed barrister, Penelope Reed QC of 5SB, to Druces’ offices to give a talk to an audience of charities on a groundbreaking case she was involved in.

The case: Penelope Reed represented the appellant charities who were beneficiaries under the Will of June Fairbrother. The Respondent, Ms Fairbrother’s nephew, claimed that the deceased had transferred her house to her nephew by donatio mortis causa (sometimes called a “deathbed gift”) and indeed The High Court found that there had been a valid deathbed gift of the property to the Respondent.

However, on appeal the Appellants succeeded in overturning this decision.

The deceased was the owner of a property in Harpenden. She had no children, but was involved in helping several animal charities with their work, and had made a Will dividing the bulk of her estate between several such charities. The Respondent is her nephew. In the summer of 2007, the Respondent went to live with his aunt, who was becoming increasingly frail.

About four months before she died, the deceased presented the Respondent with the deed to the property and said “this will be yours when I go”. On two occasions, the deceased purported to sign documents leaving the property to the Respondent after her death, but these were not witnessed correctly and ultimately failed as Wills.

This decision offers a modern restatement and clarification of the law relating to donatio mortis causa.

If you would like to talk to someone about the issues involved in the case or would like to be added to mailing list for the next charity lunchtime charity seminar, please contact Rachel Diedrich.