Roythornes Banner Image


News and Events

What is a deathbed gift, and how do you know if it is valid?

View profile for Leah Merrifield
  • Posted
  • Author

A deathbed gift, or a “donationes mortis causa”, is a gift made in contemplation of death. This type of gift may be a source of dispute, as it allows someone to give away their assets shortly before death, but without needing to comply with the formalities of a will (such as being signed and witnessed).

The recent case of Rahman v Hassan looked in detail at this unusual type of gift.

In Rahman v Hassan the judge held that the following elements were necessary for a deathbed gift to be established:

  1. The gift must be made in contemplation of impending death;
  2. The gift must be subject to the condition that the donor (the person making the gift) dies; and
  3. The donor must take sufficient steps to implement the gift and part with “dominion” (which we will give an example of below).

This case concerned deathbed gifts made by Mr Al Mahmood to his friend and distant relative Masudur Rahman. Masudur met Mr Al Mahmood in 2011, and Mr Al Mahmood and his wife became increasingly reliant on Masudur for assistance in the lead up to their deaths in 2020, with him eventually moving into their home.

Mr Al Mahmood’s wife died on 6 October 2020, and she left everything to her husband. If Mr Al Mahmood had not made a deathbed gift, then his estate would have been worth over a million pounds when he died shortly after his wife on 23 October 2020. However, the court found that Mr Al Mahmood had in fact validly gifted away his entire UK estate in the days between his wife’s death and his own.

According to Masudur, Mr Al Mahmood had viewed him as a son, and wanted him to have everything on his death. Following his wife’s death, Mr Al Mahmood had given instructions for a will to be prepared for him, to leave everything to Masudur. However, Mr Al Mahmood was extremely unwell, and feared that he would die before having a chance to execute the will. He therefore gifted his UK assets to Masudur in the days before his death. Mr Al Mahmood did in fact die before ever executing his new will. The individuals that stood to benefit from Mr Al Mahmood’s estate disputed the gifts, and even suggested that Masudur may have had a hand in Mr Al Mahmood’s death (although a coroner was satisfied that he had died of natural causes).

The judge found that all of the elements of a deathbed gift were made out. Mr Al Mahmood had contemplated his impending death, he had not recovered, and had died shortly after the gifts were made. The gifts were made subject to the condition that Mr Al Mahmood died, his intention effectively being to gift his UK assets to Masudur so that there was no need for him to make a new will. Lastly, Mr Al Mahmood took steps to implement the gift. He gave Masudur log in details, passwords and cards for his bank accounts. He also gave Masudur the registered land certificate and the spare keys to his home. The fact that Mr Al Mahmood had parted possession with these security details and documents was sufficient for him to have parted with “dominion” over his bank accounts and property.

If you have any queries or concerns about a gift, please contact us and one of our specialist team will be happy to discuss things with you.