Court Of Appeal Overturns Decision In ‘Deathbed Gift’ Case

Lawyers Say Issue Highlights Importance Of Updated Will


Specialist will dispute lawyers have said a Court of Appeal ruling which overturns a decision related to a woman leaving a property to her nephew is a reminder of the importance of making a comprehensive and clear will.

The case of King v Dubrey & Others (2014) concerned a woman who made a will in 1998 outlining that her estate should be left to friends and family, as well as several animal welfare charities including the PDSA.

Following her death in 2011 however, her nephew came forward claiming that the woman had spoken to him around six months before her death about her property worth £350,000 and said she would gift it to him.

In 2014, the High Court stated that the gift of the property should stand as the woman had invoked a donatio mortis causa – a gift made in contemplation of death. The decision meant therefore the charities and other beneficiaries would receive nothing.

However, the Court of Appeal has now unanimously reversed the decision, outlining that it could not be proved that the woman’s decision was made while contemplating her death.

Lord Justice Jackson added: “She was not suffering from a fatal illness. Nor was she about to undergo a dangerous operation or to undertake a dangerous journey. If June was dissatisfied with her existing Will and suddenly wished to leave everything to the claimant, the obvious thing for her to do was to go to her solicitors and make a new Will.”

According to specialist lawyers in Irwin Mitchell’s Will, Trust and Estate Dispute team, the case highlights how it remains important for people to always keep a will updated to reflect their wishes.

Expert Opinion
"This case has put a spotlight on the concept of donatio mortis causa – or DMC – which is based around the idea of a person leaving a gift to someone while on their ‘deathbed’ or while thinking about their impending death.

"In its ruling, the Court of Appeal has decided that the woman’s statement about leaving the property to her nephew did not satisfy the requirements of a DMC – particularly as it was made while she was in good health and not considering her death at that time.

"As such, it was felt that if she genuinely had the desire to leave the property to her nephew, she should have taken the step of updating her will with the help of solicitors.

"This ultimately highlights the continued importance of having a properly executed will in place which fully reflects your wishes, as well as updating the document should those wishes or your circumstances change.

"Another useful step is to ensure family members understand your wishes and the reasons behind them, as this should go some way towards minimising the risk of disputes about your estate in the future."
Katie Winslow, Legal Executive