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Pre-Death Agreements

Contesting Deathbed Gifts & Wills

When someone knows they will die soon, they may choose to gift property, assets or business shares to a loved one.

Often there isn’t time to update their existing Will, and these ‘deathbed gifts’ take the form of verbal agreements. Because of this, they can cause disputes after the individual has died.

Our solicitors can help if you:

  • Have been given a deathbed gift which is being disputed
  • Would like to contest a gift given to someone else.

In some cases, a deathbed gift can overrule the instructions left in a Will. This means if you’re a beneficiary of an estate, your share could be reduced because of a deathbed gift to someone else.

Because they’re made at a very sensitive time, deathbed gifts have to meet several conditions in order to be valid. If these are not met, the gift may be disputed.

Deathbed Wills

Sometimes a person may also make a ‘deathbed Will’. This could be verbal or written down. However, such wills are often made in a hurry and may not meet the requirements for a formal will. This means they can cause confusion after the person has died, especially if they contradict an earlier will.

It’s important to know whether the things mentioned in the Will were intended as gifts while the donor was still alive, or are only meant to take effect once the person has died. Whether they are given as lifetime gifts or posthumously can have different consequences for tax and the rest of the estate.

Our Wills, Trusts and Estates Disputes team is the largest in the country, with an unrivalled track record. We understand that each case is unique, and our solicitors have the experience and knowledge to help you.

Whether you’re defending or contesting a deathbed gift, our team will support you and keep you updated on progress throughout your claim.

To find out more, call us on 0345 604 4895 or contact us online.

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Contesting Deathbed Gifts & Wills - More Information
    • How Long Will It Take?
    • Most claims take less than a year and don’t have to go to court. However, every case is different and time spans depend on the type of dispute and your individual situation.

      Some disputes can be resolved quickly and amicably in a matter of months, but others might take years to conclude and involve going to court several times.

      We’ll advise you at the start how long we think it will take. Whatever the situation, we always aim to resolve your dispute as quickly and efficiently as possible. We understand that this is a difficult time, and we’re here to help you through.

    • Will I Have To Go To Court?
    • Most disputes can be resolved by negotiation and discussion, without having to go to court. However, sometimes this isn’t possible and court is the only way.

      We understand that most people would prefer to keep their dispute out of court, and we will always do everything we can to try and reach an agreement by mediation. However, if your dispute does have to go to court, we will support you at every stage. We have the experience to handle court disputes efficiently and effectively, to achieve the best outcome for you.

    • How Can I Cover The Cost Of My Claim?
    • There are various ways you can cover the cost of your claim, depending on your case. These include:

      • Legal Expenses Insurance
      • Conditional Fee Agreement (‘No Win No Fee’)
      • Payment on conclusion
      • Private monthly billing.

      We understand that funds and assets may be tied up in the disputed estate, and we’ll be as flexible as possible to ensure that’s not another worry on your mind. We’ll discuss the different payment options with you at the start.

      Your first consultation with us is completely free, and there’s no obligation to continue.

    • How Long Do I Have To Make A Claim?
    • Depending on the type of claim you’re making, you may need to start your claim within six months of the grant of representation being issued. In all cases, it’s very important to seek legal advice as soon as possible, so you aren’t prevented from making a valid and potentially valuable claim. We’ll be able to advise you on your situation and how we can help.

    • How Much Does It Cost? Who Pays?
    • The cost of a Will, trust or estate dispute varies from case to case, depending on time, complexity, and whether or not you have to go to court.

      A dispute can be settled at any time if the parties can come to an agreement, and they can then decide how to split the costs between them. However, if an agreement can’t be reached and the case has to go to court, the court will decide how the costs will be paid.

    • Meet The Team
    • Our Will, Trust and Estate dispute team is the largest in the UK and we have offices across the country. We are experienced in managing high-net-worth and ultra-high-net-worth claims as well as less complex ones.

      We’ve resolved some of the country’s most high-profile disputes and are particularly experienced with the unique challenges of multi-jurisdictional wealth management structures, rural property and inheritance tax.

      We are recommended by the leading legal guides and pride ourselves on the strong relationship we build with our clients in what is often a very trying time.

      Meet the team

My legal team has held my hand throughout, they have been incredibly patient and understanding"

Joy Williams, client

Frequently Asked Questions

Who Can Contest A Deathbed Gift? On What Grounds?

As a verbal agreement made during a sensitive time, a deathbed gift has to meet certain conditions to be valid. If any of these conditions are not met, they can be used as grounds for contesting it.

It must be:

  • Made ‘in contemplation of death’ – this means the donor believes that they will die soon (deathbed gifts are usually made in the last few days of someone’s life.) 
  • Given symbolically before the donor’s death – a ‘token’ of the gift should be given before the donor passes away. For example, if they’re gifting property, they should hand over the keys or deeds before they die.
  • Made to take effect when the donor dies – even though the gift has already been symbolically handed over, the transfer of ownership will not take effect until after the donor’s death.
  • Made by someone with the mental capacity to make a gift – the person making the gift has to be of sound mind and understand what they are doing when they make the gift

A deathbed gift may be challenged by an executor or administrator or the person who would have been entitled to the gift under the deceased’s Will or the rules of intestacy.

To find out more, call us today on 0345 604 4895 or fill out our online contact form.

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What Is the Difference Between A Deathbed Gift And A Lifetime Gift?

While both of these will have an impact on a person’s estate, there are important differences between a deathbed and lifetime gift.

Deathbed gifts are given by someone who is close to the end of their life, usually in the last few days. They’re often used because there isn’t time to update their existing Will.

Deathbed gifts are verbal agreements, which aren’t part of any previous estate planning, but can sometimes overrule the instructions of a Will. These gifts are conditional on death and so don’t take place until someone dies. They can be revoked at any time until the death happens.

Lifetime gifts can be made at any point during someone’s life. They are often part of estate planning, and can be used to reduce inheritance tax.

They might be made by someone who is organising their affairs before their death, but can be made at any time. The gift takes immediate effect and cannot be revoked if it is validly made.

Visit our Challenging A Lifetime Gift page for more information.

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Is There A Time Limit To Make A Claim?

While there are no strict time limits for contesting a deathbed gift, it’s important to get legal advice as soon as possible. It’s best to do this as soon as you know a gift was made. This is to make the recipient of the gift and any administrators of the estate aware of your claim. The longer the delay the more unlikely the gift is to be set aside.

To get in touch today, call us on 0345 604 4895 or fill out our online contact form.

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